When Steven Tarasek was a student at Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo, he excelled at math and science and knew he wanted to study physics in college. He opted for SUNY Buffalo State where he is now a senior and Muriel A. Howard Honors Program student.
“What I like about studying physics at Buffalo State is that it’s a tightknit community,” Tarasek said. “All the professors are approachable, and there are research opportunities within the department. I know most of the other students, so I’m taking classes with friends versus a bunch of strangers.”
What has made the program even more attractive for Tarasek is being named a recipient of the Robert A. and Dorothy Stender Sweet Physics Scholarship. In 2011, during Tarasek’s sophomore year, the Sweet family established a $1.7 million bequest, the largest gift in Buffalo State’s history designated specifically for scholarships. Since then, five outstanding physics majors have been awarded $2,500 scholarships annually; the scholarships are renewable up to four years for students who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average.
Dorothy Sweet was a friend of the late Buffalo State President Aaron Podolefsky. She created the scholarship to honor her husband, Robert, who taught for almost 30 years on the staff of the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.
Tarasek was one of the first students to receive a Sweet Scholarship, and he said it has made a tremendous difference in his college experience. The youngest of four children, all of whom attended Buffalo State, Tarasek said he will graduate in May without incurring any debt. He also received scholarships through the Honors Program, the Presidential Fund, and New York State.
The Physics Department, which offers several undergraduate programs and one graduate program in physics education, also has benefited greatly from Sweet’s generosity. It is booming. Now, enrollment has more than doubled what it was just five years ago. Michael DeMarco, chair and professor of physics, predicts that the enrollment will continue to grow.
“This is huge for a physics department,” he said, adding that upper-division classes historically had at most five students. Now, most of these courses have nearly 10. Interestingly, 20 students enrolled in the challenging thermodynamics course last semester
“Never, in my 30-plus years of teaching have we had that many students in thermodynamics,” DeMarco said.
The change speaks volumes about the caliber of student that SUNY Buffalo State is able to attract. Tarasek is one of those students—intelligent, curious, and dedicated.
The soft-spoken senior is now looking into doctorate physics programs at prestigious schools such as Penn State, Yale, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“Steve has an excellent chance of being admitted with funding to all the schools that he applied to,” DeMarco said. “We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out soon.”