May 28, 2024


From Aggie to Space Scientist: How USU Shaped the Career Trajectory of Physicist Jodie Ream

Jodie Ream ’09 at the launch of NASA’s groundbreaking Psyche mission

Jodie Ream ’09 at the launch of NASA’s groundbreaking Psyche mission, which launched in October 2023.

Utah State University alumna, Jodie Ream ’09, now a space physicist specializing in magnetospheric physics and plasma waves at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is always reminded of the profound impact her alma mater had on her career trajectory. Her journey from USU to MIT was shaped by the invaluable experiences she gained through undergraduate research.

“The quality of teaching and the boundless opportunities for hands-on exploration at the undergraduate level ignited my passion for physics,” Jodie recalls. “From conducting fieldwork to applying computer programming languages to tackling scientific problems, I thrived in USU’s dynamic research environment.”

Jodie Ream

Arriving at USU as a transfer student from Salt Lake Community College in 2006, Jodie embraced her new academic home. Setting her sights on a physics degree, she immersed herself in campus life including reviving the USU student chapter of the Society of Physics Students, seizing every chance to engage with fellow students and professors alike.

“It paid off,” Jodie reflects. “Not only did I find a professor willing to collaborate on a research project, but he also offered me a position to work on a project that eventually became my senior research endeavor for Honors.”

Under the mentorship of Professor Mike Taylor from the Physics Department in the College of Science, Jodie delved into the study of mesospheric noctilucent clouds (high-altitude wispy-like clouds formed from ice crystals) during her undergraduate years. She spent five weeks in Alaska investigating these elusive formations that make up the highest clouds in earth’s atmosphere. In 2007, Jodie received the prestigious Willard L. Eccles Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a boon for her as a single mother juggling academic pursuits with parental responsibilities.

“Scholarships were a lifeline,” Jodie emphasizes. “They alleviated concerns about income and paying for college, while balancing time between my studies and caring for my daughter.”

Jodie’s dedication earned her numerous accolades at USU, including an honorable mention from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation in 2007, followed by being named a Goldwater Scholar in 2008. Additionally, she was recognized as an Outstanding Student for Undergraduate Research by the Society of Physics Students in 2008, presenting her research at the International Conference of Physics Students in Cracow, Poland. In 2009, Jodie was named the Outstanding Undergraduate Student by the USU University Honors Program.

The emphasis on undergraduate research at USU not only enriched Jodie’s grasp of her field but also distinguished her during graduate school applications. Through her research with Professor Taylor, Jodie had the opportunity to attend and present at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting her senior year, leading to an introduction to a professor from the University of California Los Angeles at their annual meeting. This encounter further fueled her academic journey, showcasing the transformative impact of USU’s commitment to undergraduate research.

Following the completion of her doctorate in space physics at the University of California in 2015, Jodie embarked on a journey that brought her back to Utah. There, she shared her expertise by teaching physics and astronomy classes at Utah Valley University, all the while continuing her groundbreaking research on magnetospheric phenomena. In 2018, Jodie seized a new opportunity and joined the prestigious ranks of MIT as a research scientist. Today, she is involved in NASA’s groundbreaking Psyche mission, which launched in October 2023. At MIT, Jodie delves into the study of magnetic signatures observed from the spacecraft en route to an ancient asteroid, adding yet another chapter to her career in space exploration.

Thinking about her time at USU, Jodie credits her professors for their unwavering support in helping students build connections, secure scholarships, and explore job opportunities.

“USU offered me substantial research opportunities as an undergraduate,” Jodie explained. “Engaging in research with Professor Taylor, alongside the mentorship from him and other faculty, including Dr. David Peak, the Honors advisor in the Department of Psychics, was instrumental in laying the groundwork for my success. Dr. Peak was particularly influential, encouraging me to pursue and ultimately secure several scholarships during my time at USU, such as the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.”

At USU, undergraduate research serves as a crucial bridge between classroom learning and real-world application, fostering critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a deeper understanding of academic concepts. Ultimately, undergraduate research empowers students to make meaningful contributions to their fields, while shaping them into well-rounded, intellectually curious individuals poised for success beyond the classroom. As one of the country’s top undergraduate research programs, USU is constantly evolving to improve inclusion and excellence throughout its award-winning student opportunities.

“I wholeheartedly endorse contributing to USU’s undergraduate research program, whether through in-kind donations or financial support,” Jodie affirmed. “Every contribution, no matter how small, can make a significant difference in a student’s journey. Your investment will be used to nurture the next generation of researchers and innovators.”

As a young career professional, Jodie exemplifies the spirit of giving back by contributing to USU’s Emergency Hardship Fund and taking time to share her expertise with today’s students. In spring 2024, she returned to the university campus to present insights about her groundbreaking work on the Psyche mission and engage with USU Honors students.

“It was a delight to reconnect with the campus community, discuss my research and emphasize the importance of student involvement and networking opportunities,” Jodie expressed.

As she continues to push the boundaries of space exploration, Jodie remains deeply appreciative of the transformative role USU played in fostering academic and professional growth, where undergraduate research was not only encouraged, but celebrated as a hallmark of academic excellence.

From research on land, water and air, to space innovation, Utah State is creating transformational impact and changing lives around the world. Your gift toward research and innovation initiatives help Utah State provide an unparalleled learning environment with the facilities, services and technology, programs and expertise that stimulate and support the growth of research and technology-based enterprises. Create Your Aggie Impact by supporting the area of research and innovation that most inspires you to make a difference through the power of philanthropy.


Kade Burnham
Science, Development Director

What's Your Impact

Submit Story