Editor's note: This story is part of our back-to-school spotlight on notable incoming students. The series will run during the first two weeks of the fall semester. Read our other profiles here.
You could say Eric Laughlin was starstruck during his search for a university.
It might be more accurate, however, to say he was space-struck.
The student from Burbank, California, was wrapping up his community college studies at Pasadena City College and wanted to find somewhere he could pursue his passion for astronomy and physics.
The public California schools he looked into didn’t have what he was searching for.
“None of them really did – I was surprised,” he said. “The UC system is so large, I thought there would be more opportunity. Especially since you have JPL (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) there and the space center up in northern California.”
A friend who was also ready to transfer suggested they look at Arizona State University because she knew people there. Laughlin discovered ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, and he was sold.
“Once I found the program at ASU, I was dead-set on coming over here,” said Laughlin, who will have a concentration in astrophysics and already has a JPL internship lined up for next summer.
Astronomy was never a family interest in his home growing up. His father works in construction, his mother in the medical-malpractice field. When he graduates, he’ll be the first person in his family to finish a college degree other than his uncle.
Laughlin had looked at other fields of study such as law and biology, “but they never spoke to me as much like this does,” he said. He joined the astronomy club at Pasadena City College, toured JPL — “It was like going to Disneyland” — and went to other space events, solidifying his love for the subject.
“I want to be able to put man on Mars,” he said. “I want to be able to take man outside our solar system — which is never going to happen — but it just seems really important.”
Laughlin moved to ASU at the start of the summer and has already taken his first ASU class, an Anthropology for Science and Mathematics course online. And his frequent drives from Tempe to Las Vegas, where his boyfriend moved recently, have presented star-laden skies the LA-area native isn’t used to.
“I’ve looked up at the sky and seen way more than I’ve ever seen before,” he said.
But it’s not just the science that has Laughlin excited about being at ASU. After attending small private schools growing up and then living at home during his community-college years, this is one student excited to jump into campus life.
“Probably because it’s a very big school, and a public school too, the population is a little more diverse,” he said of ASU. “That’s really appealing.”
Also appealing is finally living on his own, at age 23, in the Vista del Sol campus apartments.
“It’s like I’m living my own life — even though my parents are still helping me out,” he said.
In between jobs at the campus bookstore and at a Sephora in Gilbert, Laughlin has connected with other incoming students thanks to Devil 2 Devil, a social-networking site for incoming ASU students. He even organized a meetup for transfer students.
Though he admits he is going to miss the beach, the self-proclaimed foodie is excited to explore Arizona and already has gone tubing on the Salt River — his verdict: “awesome.”
Oh, and that friend who suggested they look into ASU? She ended up not coming here, but Laughlin thanks his lucky stars she pointed him this way.
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