Galileo Circle Engages Community with Science 

Scholarships Help Create Opportunity

By Mary Minor Davis

Galileo was the original polymath: astronomer, physicist and engineer. 

The College of Science’s Galileo Circle aims to build on the enormous contributions of one of the world’s greatest scientists by fostering an engaged community with a shared love of science. Founded in 2001, the Galileo Circle’s mission is to nurture the future of science, says Dale Schoonover, assistant director for Donor & Alumni Relations with the College. 

“Our mission is to provide unique experiences to our members who love science, and as our dean says, want to feed human curiosity,” Schoonover said. “These are individuals who understand that science improves our lives and our world.”

Each year, the Galileo Circle supports 150 to 175 students who each receive scholarships of $1,000. Donors, both from the business community and individuals, also support faculty research with an average award of $5,000. In all, more than $200,000 is awarded annually. In addition to individual contributions, the Galileo Circle is also supported by 24 named endowments whose principal balances now total more than $2 million. 

“It’s pretty amazing that we have members of our community establishing these endowments which create a lifetime of support for our faculty and students,” Schoonover added.

The Galileo Circle is just one of many opportunities for engagement with the College of Science and its vast reach around the University of Arizona campus and the community.

“It’s exciting to share the breadth and diversity of the College, from the science being taught, the skills our students graduate with, and the renowned research taking place daily,” said         Michael Luria, assistant dean, corporate and community engagement for the College of Science. “The combination of teaching, research and science engagement paired with the contributions to local workforce development by our graduates create great value for our local and regional communities.”

The Galileo Circle scholarships are highly selective, with less than 2% of College of Science graduate and undergraduate students receiving an award. Students must be nominated by a member of the faculty, in addition to demonstrating academic excellence.  

When Rhiannon Olivarez Kidwell heard she had been nominated, she was overwhelmed. “I was blindsided by the nomination,” recalls the 20-year-old premed student. “I had read about the scholarship, but thought it was ‘up there’ for the ‘phenomenal’ students and then I saw my name on the list.”

Kidwell, who was nominated by her principal investigator while working in the lab on virus research inspired by COVID, is an honors student majoring in molecular and cellular biology and neuroscience.

“To get that validation, to know that people believe in you and your goals, and your science, it’s humbling, and it gives you the drive to keep going even when your classes are hard,” she said. 

Kidwell was chosen among her peers after a rigorous selection process that included a personal statement from the nominator, as well as a resume of academic achievements. She started at UArizona as a molecular and cellular biologist, then added neuroscience to further study the body’s interaction at the neurological level. The California native is pursuing a medical career in pediatrics.

Galileo Circle currently has about 300 members. Schoonover wants to grow that base and she wants to attract a younger community who seek unique experiences that feed their interest in science. She would also like to increase the number of endowments. Faculty support, as well as growing the number of annual scholarships for students, is also a priority. 

“When we have our annual scholarship event and our donors get to meet these students, they’re always blown away by how incredible they are in their academic pursuit, their passion − it’s wonderful to see,” Schoonover says. “We want people to experience the College of Science first-hand in a myriad of settings.”

That experience can ultimately include taking the talents of the college’s graduates and putting them in positions that benefit businesses here either with extraordinary employees or extraordinary research emanating from the college.

“The College absolutely has a role to play that benefits our local community,” Luria said. “We can assist community partners from an economic development standpoint by showcasing the talents of our students and the ongoing research that relates to companies who are considering relocating or expanding to Tucson.”

Engage with the College of Science through our outreach venues, Career Center and the Galileo Circle.  
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