Double-Major Commencement Speaker Strikes a Balance

Physics or Engineering? That is the question for many students with a gift for math and abstract thinking who enjoy complex problem solving.
Double-Major Commencement Speaker Strikes a Balance

Student Thomas Hulse, who double-majored in Physics and Political Science

By Julie Wrinn

May 12, 2023

Physics or Engineering? That is the question for many students with a gift for math and abstract thinking who enjoy complex problem solving. Thomas Hulse (physics & political science 2023) gave careful consideration to both majors when entering UofL as a freshman and was prepared to switch to engineering if ever he felt drawn to more applicable science. But Hulse never wavered from his decision to major in physics. “As I continued with the physics major, I really came to appreciate just how beautiful and surprising the natural world is,” he said. “While I still want to use physics to make a practical impact, my interests would never let me completely abandon the pure, theoretical side. 

Hulse was fortunate to find many important mentors along the way in the UofL Department of Physics, especially Dr. Sergio Mendes, whose lab Thomas joined, and Dr. Timothy Dowling, for whom Hulse served as an undergraduate teaching assistant. “I went to these two professors for guidance on deciding a field, picking universities to apply to, and just generally gaining their insights,” Hulse said. “They are both hidden gems at UofL, being deeply passionate about physics and sparking excitement in their students.”

A National Merit Finalist and Governor’s Scholar, Hulse had a lot of options for where to attend college. A full-ride McConnell scholarship tipped the scales in UofL’s favor, but it was also a priority for Hulse to gain a well-rounded liberal arts education. He did so by earning a double major in physics and political science, as well as minors in mathematics and German. He maintained a 4.0 GPA and was an undergraduate teaching assistant in PHYS 350. He showed his talents as a natural mentor and collaborator by working extensively with a student with unique learning challenges, playing a key role in the student passing the class. Hulse also served on the McConnell Center Moot Court Team, as Vice President of the Campus Lions Club, and as a member of the Society for Physics Students.

In addition to studying abroad in Germany, Thomas was active with physics research with professors at UofL and other universities. Remarkably, he has presented his undergraduate research in five separate presentations. His many accomplishments earned him the prestigious Woodcock Medal, which is awarded to an outstanding senior in recognition of both superior scholarship and personal characteristics.

With such a glittering undergraduate career behind him, Hulse will begin doctoral studies at Rice University this fall in Applied Physics. “Applied physics is all about striking that balance between lofty theories and actual real-world application, which is the perfect fit for me,” he said. “I hope that I can find that balance to make a real, meaningful difference somewhere.” 

Of his decision to spend his undergraduate years in his home state, Hulse said, “By staying within Kentucky, I have discovered a greater sense of community and purpose. Even though I will leave the state for graduate school, my home remains in the Commonwealth and with the people here. This and other lessons I have learned outside the classroom at UofL have been just as important as my physics.”