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Chico State

Graduating Seniors Share Their Stories: Physics Major Finds Inner Strength to Aim for the Stars  

Giovanni Paz-Silva looks up at the ceiling inside Chico State's planetarium, using a laser pointer to identify a star.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Your college years are a time of exceptional growth—academically, socially, and philosophically. Who you are on day one is often very different from the person who throws their cap in the air at commencement. As members of the Class of 2024 wrap up their time as undergraduates, we’re asking them to share their story of transformation.    

The moment he enters Roth Planetarium, you can tell Giovanni Paz-Silva feels at home looking up at the stars—even a simulacrum of them. His awe and fascination are palpable as he twists dials, sets up lights, and transforms the ceiling into a blanket of constellations.  

Always a curious explorer at heart, he wanted to be a pilot as a kid. As he got older, an aerospace engineer. And while in community college, Paz-Silva discovered something that captured all his curiosities in one discipline: physics.  

“Physics helps me understand this reality through forces like gravity and magnetism,” said Paz-Silva, a senior majoring in physics and minoring in mathematics. “As I learned about those things, it just made me crave a deeper understanding of everything else. And that’s why I switched to physics—because it’s the field that helps me understand reality, and I love it.”  

Since transferring to Chico State in 2022, he has thrown himself into the program—conducting research about the nature of stars and chaos with physics professor Nicholas Nelson, stepping up as president of the Society of Physics Students, and working as a teacher’s assistant.  

But academic excellence has not always been easy. A first-generation student from Mexico, he’s overcome multiple barriers to find the comfort and confidence on display at the campus planetarium.  

“Physics is a really challenging major—I don’t know what I would have done without the faculty and my peers,” he said. “They’ve supported me through a lot over the years, spending time with me in the tutoring room and for other things that have come up.”   

Through grit, humility, and vulnerability, Paz-Silva has built a network of support that includes physics professors Paul Arpin, David Brookes, and Kendall Hall, along with his classmates and fellow club members, all of whom understand the dedication it has taken to excel in their program.  

Together, they’ve helped him unlock his potential. Now on the cusp of graduating, he is aiming to do a graduate degree in stellar astrophysics or cosmology after spending some time in the workforce to start supporting his parents. But no matter where he lands, he knows a whole world of stars remains above him, waiting to be explored.

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In His Own Words:

I was really excited to come to Chico State. After years at a community college, I was finally going to work on my major. But I really was scared at first. I thought the classes would be too hard and that professors wouldn’t have time to work with me. English is not my first language, and I have needed support in a few different areas.

Of course, none of this was true, and they were all very supportive. Physics is a small department and everyone knows each other. My professors have been very welcoming and they are always willing to extend office hours to me and my peers. We all spend a lot of time in the physics building studying and they have always been willing to make time to help us through problems.

The faculty here have shown me a lot of care and patience. If anyone has a problem, they’re willing to help out and work with you. I’ve learned how important and helpful it is when professors spend time helping you develop skills. Because of the way they’ve treated me, I now believe that anyone is capable of learning.

Learn more about the Society of Physics Students and Paz-Silva’s involvement in our feature on clubs at Chico State