A photograph of Santa Monica College

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On Her Way to the Stars

Laura Zwicker

Laura Zwicker represents the students of Santa Monica College (SMC) on the college’s Board of Trustees, making sure student interests are heard. “Her practice of thinking deeply,” says Board Chair Louise Jaffe, “leads to collaborative and effective solutions.”

Life was not always so engaging for Laura. Her childhood was difficult. “I had a lot to recover from—both family and health issues,” she says, “and I was just aimless for a while, not sure what I wanted to do, or even if I wanted to keep going.”

In 2011, Laura was homeless, often living in halfway houses or treatment centers. And she had been out of school for almost 10 years, after previously taking classes at Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University Maryland.

So she applied to Santa Monica College.

“I just wanted to have a reason to wake up in the morning, someplace to go, and people to interact with,” says Laura. Her first semester was trying. “I didn’t know anyone, I was struggling financially with housing, but I wanted a change.”

She made herself go to student club meetings even though she didn’t want to. “I usually sat in the back and pretended to text people, but I knew it would be good for me to have a sense of community, so I kept going back,” remembers Laura. “I found everyone to be welcoming, and I grew to feel that I was part of a community who cared about each other. That made a huge impact.”

During her childhood, Laura spent “a lot of time in my head or with my imaginary friends, living in another world,” she says, adding that she watched a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars. She decided she wanted to write science fiction, so she signed up for creative writing.

She also signed up for an astronomy class—just to give herself “some background”—and met SMC Astronomy professor Gary Fouts, whose passion for his discipline can only be described as, well, “astronomical.” He was also the faculty advisor for the SMC Astronomy Club, which Laura joined.

Today, thanks to Professor Fouts, Laura is focused on two majors: creative writing and astrophysics. “I realized I was good at science,” she says. As part of the STEM Science Research Initiative at SMC, Laura has also been able to get some hands-on research experience at NASA and JPL through two internships.

And as a student leader, says Laura, “I wanted to create for other students to have a niche they can call their own. Serving other students to give them the opportunities I had—or even more—has been my driving force.”

Laura hopes to earn a PhD. Her role as a student leader has been so gratifying that she is contemplating switching majors to Political Science. She just wants to “find ways to help people,” and there’s no doubt she’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

“I just wanted to have a reason to wake up in the morning, someplace to go, and people to interact with.”
– SMC Student Trustee Laura Zwicker

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