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Stars favor science whiz Grand Islander gets British astrophysics scholarship

After five years at the University of Pittsburgh on a full academic scholarship, Grand Island High School graduate Anna M. Quider will head next year to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom to earn her doctorate in astrophysics -- on a full scholarship.

Quider was one of 43 U.S. college students to be awarded a Marshall Scholarship this year by the British government, providing up to three years of tuition, room and board, and a stipend to do graduate work in the U.K. Doctoral programs there are generally three years long, rather than six years as in the United States, because students complete their course work first, as part of their master's programs.

"I'm going to have to learn graduate physics on my own, or with the help of a tutor," Quider said.

The Marshall program was established in 1953 to build on the Rhodes Scholarship, which is privately funded. While Rhodes scholars are restricted to attending Oxford University, Marshall scholars can attend any university in the U.K.

Quider, an exuberant, self-assured 22-year-old, attributes her success to years of support and encouragement from across the community. Her boundless curiosity was nurtured in her early years not only by her family, but by the Montessori School on Clinton Street in Buffalo.

"I think Montessori is why I am the way I am," she said. "I'd ask my teachers questions, and they'd give me a library pass for the whole day and say, 'Great, you're curious about that. Go and find out.' You show them something, and they say, 'Why does it work that way?' -- not 'This is why it works that way.' "

By kindergarten, she was learning Italian. In sixth grade, she was doing eighth-grade math and reading adult novels, she said.

"I didn't have to fit their reading schedule, their math schedule," she said. "It was wonderfully successful for me."

Her parents, Dan Quider, a former Buffalo City Council member, and Theresa Quider, a special education teacher at School 81, moved to Grand Island while Anna was an adolescent. She transferred to Grand Island Middle School in seventh grade. The transition from Montessori to "a typical hierarchical" school was not smooth, she says.

"I wanted to talk to my teachers about things I was interested in, but they'd say, 'No, we're not studying that right now,' " she said.

By the time she reached high school, Quider had an easier time settling in. She took honors and Advanced Placement courses, many of which had looser structures that suited her.

She established bonds with teachers such as William Stuckwisch, who taught chemistry, and Timothy Williamson, who teaches physics, and she remains in touch with both. Quider was queen of her prom and valedictorian of the Class of 2002, on top of her involvement with everything from the International Club to the Theater Club.

After graduation, she headed to Pitt, where her extensive research has been published in scientific journals nine times -- an unusual feat for an undergraduate -- and as well as received national awards. In April, she will graduate with a bachelor's in physics and astronomy and a bachelor's with a dual major in religious studies and the history and philosophy of science

During her vacations, she has taught pupils at Kaegebein Elementary on Grand Island and School 81 in Buffalo about astronomy. She spent most of Wednesday stationed on the sidewalk outside Kaegebein, helping class after class look at the sun through a reflecting telescope with a solar filter.

"It makes it so special for children to have an actual scientist in the classroom to ask questions of," said third-grade teacher Janice Ahne.

Scores of children walked away with their interest in astronomy clearly piqued after getting an up-close look at the nearest star.

"It looks like a blown-up ball of fire!" one boy exclaimed.

Quider's lessons with the pupils are likely just a sample of what her future holds; she plans to become a research professor. She loves talking, she said, and she especially loves talking about science.

"I think outreach is an extremely important part of being an academic," she said. "I really try to make science accessible to everybody because, after all, it's their tax dollars that fund us."

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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