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Navy Officer and Nuclear Physicist

Clint Hawkins

How did you choose to major in physics?
I wasn’t originally planning on going to college. Nobody else in my immediate family went to college, and I was just planning on getting a job upon high school graduation. My parents wanted me to go to college, and I went to community college and got my AA degree.

If I was going to continue in school, the only thing I would do is some sort of science. I’ve loved science my whole life. I grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and all those science shows. Physics seemed to be at the heart of all the sciences. It explained everything that I couldn’t explain.

After graduation, tell us about your next step as a Navy officer and nuclear physicist through the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program.
It’s a five-year commitment. You have to have a bachelor’s degree in one of the sciences or engineering. They send you to officer candidate school, then to training and then you spend your time on duty.

I was uncertain of what I wanted to do after graduation. My teachers wanted me to go into graduate school, but to be honest, I was kind of sick of school. There’s really not much you can do with a bachelor’s degree in physics unless you go to grad school or teach middle school or high school. This program came along and gave me a great way to merge all my schooling with a position that I can apply my physics background.

I’ll probably be on a fast attack sub and run the nuclear reactor. What the Navy wants in an officer is someone who will understand what the problem is and be able to make a decision without having to look at a manual. For example if you push a button, they want someone there who knows why you pushed the button and to solve any problems that might come up.

Is there an aspect of danger to this job that your mother would worry about?
Initially, my mom was worried about being around a nuclear reactor and being exposed to radiation. But as it turns out, you’re less exposed to radioactive materials than the normal person. You get more from the sun than you do when you’re under the sea, which protects you from all the radioactive elements from the sun.

What was one of your best experiences during college?
I had an astronomy summer internship at the University of Arizona through the CAMPARE (California-Arizona Minority Partnership for Astronomy Research and Education) program. I was able to go up to the telescope for 10 nights and get all my data. I was studying young stars and circumstellar disks, which is the disk of gas and dust around a young star that will lead to planet formation.

The experience was awesome. For the 10 nights I was there I was the only person there besides the telescope operator. I was the one who told the telescope operator where to look. It felt like I was in charge. It was a lot more responsibility than I thought but a good experience.

What did you think of your Cal Poly Pomona experience?
I loved it here. This department is better than I could have hoped for. Every faculty member I’ve met has gone out of their way to help me. It’s a small department so it’s like a family. I’ve gotten to know quite a few professors quite well. I’ve had the same professors the last few years multiple times. You get to know them and they get to know you, which makes it easier for them to teach you well.

The hands-on learning at this school really prepares you once you graduate. A lot of students [at other universities] get all the way through their bachelor’s program without doing lab work for real research. Here, they push it really hard. As a sophomore, I was starting work with a professor in a research lab.

Awards, Accolades & Campus Involvement
Out-Laws of Physics Scholarship in 2011
CAMPARE summer intern in 2011
Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honors Society
Campus Recreation Intramural Sports

Published on September 11, 2014

Impact Map

Explore Impact Map

The Impact Map shows how Cal Poly Pomona alumni are making a difference in Southern California and around the country. Explore the map or share your own impact.

Explore the map

Submit Your Story