Randy Niffenegger (Student)
Randy Niffenegger’s curiosity and passion for science runs in his blood.
Niffenegger’s mother is a chemistry teacher, his older brother has a doctoral degree in quantum physics, and his older sister is getting her doctorate in subatomic physics. He credits much of his interest in science to them, as well as his high school physics teacher.
“I fell in love with astronomy when I was 9 years old. It was the middle of February, and my older siblings and I took the telescope out in the snow. My brother directed where to point the telescope and told me to look up. I realized quickly that I was looking at Saturn, and I could see its rings in my little eyepiece,” Niffenegger said. “I fell in love with astronomy right then and there.”
A junior from Waldo, Wisconsin, Niffenegger is majoring in physics with a double minor in math and business administration. President of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Sciences, he encourages a sense of unity and collegiality within the college through its new “Discover Your And” campaign. Additionally, he serves as president of both the Astronomy Club and the Society of Physics Students, as well as student director for MSU’s Howell Observatory.
When Niffenegger was in high school, his mom attended a conference where she met a Mississippi State faculty member. At his mom's encouragement, Niffenegger researched programs at MSU, which he quickly decided was the place for him.
“The thing I love most about my time here at Mississippi State is the fact that I have had so many incredible experiences and opportunities,” Niffenegger said.
This past summer, Niffenegger worked as an astronomy park ranger intern at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. He gave two geology talks a day and led an evening astronomy program of more than 300 attendees.
“It was amazing getting to share my love for astronomy with so many people,” he said.
Niffenegger also is interested in winemaking and works at a winery when he is home in Wisconsin. His other newfound interest is landscape photography, and he is starting to sell his photographs.
“They say to follow your passion, but I have a lot of passions. If you are interested in something, find as many ways to do that as possible,” he advised. “Keep as many doors open as you can, and don’t limit yourself.”