Flora Beleznay '25's first visit to Bucknell's campus was for the STEM Scholars program, held over the summer for incoming first-year students. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
I've never really had that group of people that were so interested in what they wanted to pursue later, especially only in their first year of college. It was nice to have a relatable group.
For as long as she can remember, Flora Beleznay '25 has been fascinated by biophysics, which at its heart is the study of the universe. A descendant of physicists, she learned very early the tantalizing mysteries of science and math. In sixth grade, she took her first coding class.
"It wasn't anything serious — just a basic course," she says. "And then I remember going back home to my dad and being like, 'Look at what I learned in school.'"
Her dad, a solid-state physicist, was impressed — not so much by the class itself but by the potential he saw in his daughter.
"He said, 'If you think that's cool, just wait until I show you what I can do,'" Beleznay remembers.
Her dad did just that, teaching her the intricacies of coding. She learned so much that when she took an AP Computer Science Principles class in high school, she understood the language of computers as easily as she understood her native languages of Hungarian and English.
"That class wasn’t really too difficult,” she says. “Most of my knowledge came from my dad. He taught me how to use Mathematica, Python, Java.”
Throughout high school in Boca Raton, Fla., Beleznay felt like the odd person out academically. Her friends and swimming teammates were more interested in fields like humanities, economics or literature.
"I didn’t know a single person who enjoyed physics in high school," she says. "I definitely had a lot of encounters where my classmates were like, 'Why do you want to take this class? Is that really what you want to major in?' But this is what I'm passionate about."
It's what her family's passionate about, too. In addition to her father’s role as a physicist, Beleznay's older sister, Maya, is studying astrophysics in college. And her grandmother was an accomplished biophysicist in Hungary, a place Beleznay visits every summer.
"She's over the moon," Beleznay says. "She's very proud of me and my sister because it's not easy. It's a lot easier now than it was back in her day in Hungary, but it's still not easy being a woman physicist.
"For her to be in such a vigorous scholastic field and pursue it amid the struggles of being a female is really what influenced me to pursue physics," Beleznay says.
Flora Beleznay '25 developed an affinity for computer coding while in middle school. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
Finding a College Home
When Beleznay was researching schools, she learned about Bucknell's STEM Scholars program, held over the summer for incoming first-year students. It would be a chance for Beleznay to start her Bucknell experience early, living on campus and conducting research with professors and fellow students.
It was also an opportunity for Beleznay to finally see Bucknell's campus. Because of the pandemic, she hadn't made the trip from Florida to Lewisburg. The first day of the five-week STEM Scholars program was her first time in the state of Pennsylvania.
"I loved it. It was beautiful," she says. "The weather was amazing. The sky was always so blue and clear."
The program also expanded Beleznay's network of others who shared her passion for STEM.
"We would have great conversations," she says. "I've never really had that group of people that were so interested in what they wanted to pursue later, especially only in their first year of college."
This tight-knit community of students was a place to share wins and vent about frustrations. When Beleznay would get stuck on a piece of code, for example, she could talk to someone about it.
For her research, Beleznay used computer software to model how antibiotics affect multiresistant bacteria. For Beleznay, it was a dream assignment. She was just a few months out of high school and was already doing actual research with an accomplished professor and participating in Zoom calls with grad students from Germany.
"It was a little intimidating at first, but they were all very kind," she says. "I felt like I could chime in whenever."
Taking Her Talents to the Pool
While she formed a kinship with fellow scientists inside Bucknell's labs, Beleznay had already found another group of friends on Bucknell’s Division I water polo team.
Water polo is the national sport of Hungary — as popular as football is in the United States, Beleznay says.
"I've definitely been an avid watcher of water polo since I was a child. My parents introduced me to it. They were like, 'Do you want to just try it out?' And I was like, 'Maybe. I guess.' And I fell in love with it immediately," she says.
But the absence of a women's club team near Beleznay's home in Boca Raton meant she often trained with the men, only competing with and against women for larger events throughout the state of Florida.
She chose to pursue water polo in college because she wanted to end her four years of higher education without regrets.
"I feel like this is applicable for most people," she says. "It doesn't necessarily have to be sports. It could be theatre. It could be chorus, orchestra — any kind of hobby. I just think that everyone should pursue some kind of side passion in college because who knows where it's going to take you?"
Most recruited student-athletes are invited to make an official campus visit to tour academic and athletic spaces. Beleznay, because of the pandemic, could not.
Instead, her would-be future teammates hopped on a Zoom call with Beleznay and her fellow first-year water polo athletes to give them a live tour of campus. That welcoming vibe continued when she arrived to start training with her team.
"I walked into the locker room the first day, and everyone was all smiles and really excited to just get together again," Beleznay says. "It's more of a sisterhood than a team, to be honest. They're just such an amazing group of women."
After Bucknell, Beleznay plans to pursue grad school and a Ph.D. Now that she's been introduced to the power of research, she doesn't want to stop.
"There's something about having some sort of impact on the scientific community. Because no matter who you are, any paper that is published has some kind of footprint that people in the future will build off of," she says. In her own work, she recognizes that she is building off of the research done by the generations that came before her — the same kind of research that was completed by her own father and grandmother.
"And who knows where that's going to lead? Who knows what kind of advancements are going to rely on the research that you do?"
Wherever she goes, she knows she'll have her grandma in her corner.