The Harvey Mudd community mourns the loss of Willie Zuniga ’17, a talented physics major, mentor, leader and friend to many. Zuniga passed away on Feb. 2.
Willie was passionate about understanding the universe and was pursuing a career in astrophysics. Along with a humanities concentration in philosophy, he held a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship in physics and planned to pursue a PhD then teach.
During his time at Harvey Mudd, Willie worked on several major research projects in astrophysics. He conducted summer research at the University of Illinois on NaI crystals to be used in dark matter detectors in the South Pole and, with the Enriched Xenon Observatory, searched for the neutrino-less double beta decay of Xe-136. He worked with a team of students in the Harvey Mudd Astrophysics lab of professors Greg Lyzenga ’75 and Michael Storrie-Lombardi to develop a robotic arm that attached to a remote-controlled vehicle designed to search for signs of microbial life in extreme environments on Earth as well as other planets.
Willie was a student leader and mentor, dedicated to helping others succeed. He was a proctor for Atwood residence hall and a leader in Harvey Mudd’s Society of Professional Latinxs in STEM (SPLS), Chicano Latino Student Affairs and Claremont Caballeros. He was also a youth mentor for Chinese Progressive Association in his home town of San Francisco, among other endeavors.
He was a strong advocate for underrepresented groups. Willie wrote in 2015 about becoming a Mellon Mays Fellow: “It really helps motivate someone when they have a person in their life who went through what they’re going through, and who can be there for them as a mentor and a friend. I hope to make the most of [this fellowship] and have a real impact in supporting underrepresented groups in higher education and academia.”
In his free time, Willie loved listening to music and playing guitar.
The son of Guillermo and Sara Zuniga of San Francisco, California, Willie is survived by his parents and two younger brothers, Andrew and Nicholas.
Contributions to help raise funds for the memorial can be made at Willie Zuniga’s Memorial Funding.