Studying cosmos opens doors for Evergreen Park teen
BY SANDRA GUY Sun-Times Media July 12, 2012 9:12PM
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:33AM
At an annual gathering of the American Astronomical Society last month, K’Maja Bell offered an exclusive glimpse into a new ebook about the cosmos.
Though just 16, the Evergreen Park native has gained expertise working for the past two years as the youngest-ever intern for astrophysicist Kim Coble.
Bell studies the cosmos at a level usually reserved for graduate students.
“It has opened my eyes to how big the universe really is and how much is out there we don’t even know,” said Bell, an aspiring writer and a student at Mother McAuley High School in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community.
Coble, an associate professor of physics at Chicago State University, volunteers to work with young women through Project Exploration. The nonprofit was founded 13 years ago by dinosaur explorer Paul Sereno and explorer Gabrielle “Gabe” Lyon to give young people the chance to work with scientists in the field.
Coble and Bell met through Project Exploration’s Sisters4Science program, where middle school girls learn about science with women in the profession.
Project Exploration this year also launched a year-round Brothers4Science program and is introducing students to forensics, engineering and environmental science.
Bell lent her student perspective for homework and class exercise portions for the ebook she discussed at the astronomers’ gathering in Anchorage, Alaska, in June.
The ebook, designed for college freshmen who aren’t majoring in science, will be titled “The Big Ideas in Cosmology.”
The Sisters4Science program reinforces research showing that girls and female college freshmen are highly influenced and encouraged by female teachers and peers.
Nilanjana Dasgupta, associate professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, said her research revealed that eighth-grade girls in a physical-science class showed more positive attitudes and more closely identified with science when their teacher was female rather than male.
A new institute at Benedictine University aims to boost women’s confidence in much the same way. The Women’s Institute for Global Leadership, which launched in June 2011, offers women leaders professional training programs and a master’s of science degree in leadership.
The two-year, $27,000 program, which offers scholarships and a choice of online or online-and-classroom studies, is aimed at giving women a chance to delve into their own areas of interest and explore leadership in ways they might have shied away from.