Marissa Rosenberg grew up in Kenwood but is currently in the final year of her Ph.D. in astrophysics at University of Leiden in Holland. She received her master’s degree in space studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France and received her undergraduate degree in astrophysics from UCLA.
So how did a little girl from Kenwood launch herself, almost literally into outer space? Hard work and a passionate interest in her subject area.
“I first got interested in space when I was 3 years old,” she said. “We visited a family friend in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and were there for one of the few night launches of the Space Shuttle. I watched the countdown on TV and felt the ground vibrate. I ran outside and the roar was deafening. I eventually saw the Space Shuttle pop out from above the tree line in their backyard. Ever since then, I have wanted to be an astronaut.”
Now 26, Rosenberg moved to Kenwood when she was 12 and attended Kenwood Elementary briefly before going to Rincon Valley Middle School and Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa. Her parents, Rebecca and Gary Rosenberg, own the Sonoma Lavender Company.
A summer program at the Advanced Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala., when she was 15 crystalized her ambitions. “I met an astrophysicist who showed me images from the Hubble Space Telescope, and for the first time explained to me what astronomy actually is. I quickly realized this is what I wanted to study.” Five years later, in college, she returned to Huntsville to work at the NASA Academy.
She urges students who think they aren’t good at science not to disregard science-related fields of study. “In school I was pretty terrible at physics but I still found it very intriguing. I have a feeling my science teachers would be shocked that I ended up where I am today.”
Midway through high school, her parents took her on a tour of California colleges and she fell in love with the UCLA campus. She explained, “The red brick buildings have a very Ivy League feel. I also liked that it is a big sports school, is highly ranked, and for me, was located a ‘Goldilocks’ distance away from home.”
Fast forward to her graduation, and Rosenberg received her degree from UCLA, cum laude, and she was named the most outstanding student in astrophysics at the university, with the highest departmental honors in both physics and astrophysics.
While Rosenberg enjoyed studying in her home state for college, trips abroad made her realize that she was living a very sheltered existence. “America is an isolated nation, making us inherently pretty ignorant about other nations. And Sonoma County is an incredibly sheltered spot in which the liberal agenda is applied and works flawlessly. Growing up here means that you most likely care about the environment, have solar panels on your house, drive a fuel-efficient car, recycle, are perhaps spiritual but not religious, accept LGBT individuals and fight for their equal rights, etc.”
Her summers in Huntsville, Ala., provided Rosenberg with a rude awakening that the rest of America tends to disagree with the things that most Sonoma County-ers take for granted. “With the political environment post 9/11, I realized that I was no longer proud to be an American and that I wanted to better understand how the rest of the world lives and how they view America.” She received a full scholarship for graduate school, and studying overseas seemed like the best way for her to continue to travel, while also continuing her course of study.