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Published: May 04, 2021

UT Grads Grab Attention from NASA, Animators and Engineers

When Gina Pantano graduates on Saturday, her work won’t be done. UT’s first physics and mathematics double major, Pantano will begin a 10-week paid, remote internship with the NASA Goddard Flight Center starting in June.

Gina Pantano portrait
Gina Pantano graduates on Saturday and heads to an internship with the NASA Goddard Flight Center starting in June.

Pantano, of Pittsburgh, is one of 1,781 degree-seeking candidates participating in UT’s 152nd commencement, which will be a virtual experience on May 8.

Pantano, who will pursue a doctorate in applied physics at the University of South Florida this fall, co-founded the UT chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) during her first year on campus. She said SPS has increased her networking opportunities, strengthened her ability to connect with professional organizations and introduced her to the NASA internship, which is organized through the American Institute of Physics.  

“Just because of the small size of UT, I was immediately able to do what I wanted to do and get involved. It was super easy to meet people because we are a tight-knit community, the physics department especially,” said Pantano. “We created our own family together, and that’s something I’ll never really forget.”

As a NASA intern, Pantano will be paired with another intern, a post-doctoral fellow and a software engineer on the Experiment for Cryogenic Large-aperture Intensity Mapping (EXCLAIM), which is a balloon mission that will make three-dimensional maps of the universe to tell us how stars form and how galaxies evolve across cosmic time. She’ll be analyzing raw data and relating it to cutting-edge models.

“It just clicked with me,” said Pantano of her first physics class in high school. “Physics is all around us and it’s transferrable in literally every discipline. If you can understand physics, you’ll understand how the world works. It’s humbled me a lot (by understanding) my place in the universe.”

Pantano, who has collaborated with faculty on three research projects at UT, is aiming for a career as either a principal scientist at a national lab or a senior software engineer at a tech company.

 

National Champion and Animator

Gina Bernardini graduates UT as a national champion. The competitive cheerleader has been on UT’s team for four years and a captain for two. This year they took the National Cheerleaders Association National Championship and became the first cheer team in UT history to do so. And while it’s something she is very proud of, her work with the PEACE Volunteer Center and her growth as an animator make her equally as happy.

Portrait of graduate Gina Bernardini
Gina Bernardini’s ideal career would be to animate for film and television on a 2D television show like “Rick and Morty” or stop-motion feature films like “Coraline” or “ParaNorman.” Photo courtesy of Gina Bernardini

Bernardini, an animation and mathematical programming double major with a minor in leadership studies, said her three years working with PEACE “has given my future career goals purpose as my motivations in filmmaking are founded in social justice and advocacy.”

Bernardini’s ideal career would be to animate for film and television on a 2D television show like “Rick and Morty” or stop-motion feature films like “Coraline” or “ParaNorman.” Her first short film, "Rooted," is about a woman who wants to live free with her plants. She grounds herself amongst them in an attempt to escape societal constraints and finally discovers a life of growth beyond restriction. Bernardini’s film was accepted to show in August at SIGGRAPH 2021, the international professional conference in computer graphics and interactive techniques.

Santiago Echeverry, associate professor of film, animation and new media (FMX), said this is the first time any FMX student has presented their work in such a worldwide context and shows the commitment of faculty such as Dana Corrigan, who is responsible for the 2D animation curriculum. “Gina’s animation put The University of Tampa’s program on the radar.”

Bernardini, who will return home to Chicago after graduation to submit her films to festivals, will also be completing another short film titled “Common Grounds,” for which she received a Carole Fielding Grant from the University Film and Video Association.

“I initially chose UT because I had another degree program in mind that is fairly unique to our school. However, I have always wanted to study animation and decided it was better to do what I was passionate about even if it is an extremely competitive industry,” Bernardini said. “Once I was here, I switched programs and I couldn't be happier with my decision. I am extremely proud of how much I have grown as an artist and animator.”

 

Career Ambassador

Mya McDonald, who will be graduating with a degree in international studies with a concentration in political economy, starts her career as a program assistant on May 10 with Jacobs Engineering Group in Tampa. She will be working directly with talent acquisition and recruiting to identify strong candidates for positions at the firm.

Portrait of graduate Mya McDonald
Mya McDonald, who will be graduating with a degree in international studies with a concentration in political economy, starts her career as a program assistant on May 10 with Jacobs Engineering Group in Tampa.

McDonald worked as a career ambassador for UT’s Career Services, which she said, “helped me realize how much I love helping people develop to their fullest potential.”

She starts a master’s program part-time in international peace and conflict resolution at the University of South Florida this fall, along with a graduate certificate of human resources.

“My ideal job would be something that allows me to make a positive impact globally and also enables me to travel internationally,” said McDonald, who could see herself continuing to work for a global business like Jacobs or for the government as a U.S. diplomat.

“Coming to UT was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” McDonald said. “There are so many people who I work with in Career Services who have truly become a second family to me.”

 

For more on the May commencement, visit ut.edu/commencement/may-2021-virtual-commencement.

Here are some statistics about UT's May 2021 graduating class.

UT Degree-Seeking Candidates:

Total: 1,781

Countries Represented: 50

% of graduates from Florida: 55%

Undergraduates:

Total bachelor's degree candidates: 1,540

Summa cum laude (GPA 4.0): 10

Magna cum laude (GPA 3.75 or higher, but less than 4.0): 164

Cum laude (GPA 3.5 or higher, but less than 3.75): 273

Top three most popular undergraduate majors in this class: finance, management and marketing

Graduate Students:

Total master's degree candidates: 241

With honors (GPA 3.9 or higher, but less than 4.0): 14

With highest honors (GPA 4.0): 14

MBAs awarded: 62


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