Covering All His Bases
There is much for an applied physics major to love about baseball: how to most efficiently transfer the batter’s weight, how to optimize the spin on a curveball, how the material of the bat can propel the ball farther. All would make fine problem sets.
Yet when Alex Wuschner (class of 2020) suits up, he shuts down that part of his brain.
“Physics is everywhere in baseball, which is kind of cool,” he says. “But at practice, everyone tries to forget about school.”
Baseball is his passion, but the right-handed outfielder has many interests and is determined to make the most of his Caltech experience.
Wuschner approaches his education from a try-everything perspective. During the school year, he dedicates himself to classes, labs, homework, and late-night study sessions. He also plays a leadership role at Page House and works at sundry campus jobs.
This summer, the rising senior will complete what he calls “my cycle of experiencing every type of internship,” which spans academic research, small industry, and corporate juggernaut.
In 2017, a freshman Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project took him into the NOAH Water Tunnel Laboratory of aeronautics professor Beverley McKeon. There, he experimented with a captive trajectory system to better understand and predict turbulence.
The next summer’s internship at Irvine-based Iris Technology Corporation saw him test cryocooler electronics designed for a future NASA mission. “It’s just wild,” he says. “I had my hands on something that one day will be in deep space.”
Currently, he has a systems engineering internship with Northrop Grumman.
The future remains unclear. It may or may not include graduate school. What is certain is that Wuschner will have one more undergraduate year of physics and baseball.
Vector Field of Dreams
“I never dreamed I could play college ball,” Wuschner says. But on his first campus visit, he learned that the Caltech Beavers take walk-ons. Intrigued, he tracked down then-head coach Matthew Mark, who promised him a spot.
Wuschner spent that summer and fall in intense training. “The skill jump was insane,” he recalls. “You show up, and the pitcher is throwing 85-mph fastballs. I had never before seen anything above the mid-60s.”
He sat on the bench most of his first two seasons. Last spring, however, he appeared in 19 of 34 games, scored three runs, batted in two, and earned a respectable .929 fielding percentage. The Beavers finished with an 8-26 record, including five conference wins.
“I don’t think I could have stuck with it if not for Coach Mark, who has been a really important person in my life,” Wuschner says. “I was unsure if I would succeed at the sport, let alone keep up with academics, and he gave me the confidence to give baseball a shot at the start of my freshman year.”
Securing His Future
The same work ethic that earned him a place in the Beavers’ starting lineup touches other aspects of Wuschner’s life.
He began to save for college at age 12, when he squirreled away his modest earnings as a Little League umpire. In high school, he logged 35 hours a week working at a local bakery.
Wuschner was determined to put himself through college without burdening his parents. “I always figured my dreams were my responsibility,” he says. “I worked in high school so I could pay for college. And so far, I’ve been able to do that.”
About two-thirds of his educational expenses have been covered by financial aid, Wuschner says. He has received scholarship support from the John and Ursula Kanel Charitable Foundation, the Axline Foundation, and Boeing.
That has not stopped Wuschner from working. He is a TA in Tom Mannion’s popular cooking class. He also works athletic events as a paid ball boy and camera operator. Before that, he was a campus tour guide and took the late shift at least one night a week at Caltech’s student-run coffee house. On the side, he provides web support for a Chicago-based physician group.
In Page House, Wuschner joined the social event team as a freshman, rose to vice president the following year, and currently serves as president. He has staged the house’s alumni reunion dinner, its annual Thanksgiving feast, and many recreational activities.
Like his position as a Beavers outfielder, these are all roles Wuschner loves, whether paid or unpaid. Luckily, he does not have to worry about their bottom-line impact. Thanks to financial aid and the fruits of his own labor, Wuschner expects to finish his Caltech education debt-free.
“I’m immensely grateful for the scholarships I’ve received,” he says. “Without them, I couldn’t take advantage of all the opportunities Caltech offers. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to play baseball.”
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