In October, GCC kicked off STEM Week–a statewide initiative to boost student interest in science, technology, engineering and math¬–with a presentation by NASA astronaut, polymer chemist and Air Force Colonel Cady Coleman. Cady, who has close ties to GCC as a Trustee of the College and Franklin County resident, presented stories of teamwork from her career in space, which has included science missions on the space shuttle Columbia and on the International Space Station.
Cady’s presentation was a community event, open to all who wanted to come. One alum who graduated 30 years ago said, “I haven’t been to the GCC campus in many, many years. Cady is what brought me back in.” The event also drew attendees from as far away as southern Hampden County, including staff from the Springfield Science Museum and Planetarium.
Alysha Putnam, STEM Special Programs Coordinator and STEM Week organizer, was excited by Cady’s recommendation to students to “be brave and be open about the talents that you bring.” “Getting into STEM can be overwhelming,” Alysha explained. “You have to be a little brave to take it on, but then it is so rewarding. The best problem-solving happens when we don’t let ourselves get siloed. Cady talks about how all the sciences need each other, how science needs the humanities, and the humanities need science. We need to be open to one another’s perspectives.”
Cady’s presentation included photos, videos, and storytelling from her time on the International Space Station. She emphasized teamwork, diversity, collaboration, and honestly sharing who we are with the people on our team. “There’s a crew of all of us on spaceship earth, and we have the mission to get to really know each other and figure out how to work together, whether we like each other or not.”
“And, we have other places to go,” she continued, addressing the students. “Everyone here can contribute to what happens on a Mars mission, to how we’re going to live together, how we are going to help each other. It’s important to realize that we are that crew. And GCC is a really great place for learning to be a member of that crew and figuring out what you can contribute to that.”
Alysha Putnam shared that Cady’s presentation had a big impact on students. “One of my advisees was undecided about her major. She was finding out that she liked math, but was unclear about what direction she was headed. After Cady’s talk, it was like a fire had been lit in her. She came to my office to tell me she’d decided to declare a major in Engineering Sciences. She was radiating excitement and enthusiasm. Her exploration of math and science here at GCC, in combination with the presentation by Cady, helped her make an important decision about her future.”