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Need Motivation? Meet Astronaut Abby

Need Motivation? Meet Astronaut Abby

Abigail Harrison—known online as Astronaut Abby—is a 20-year-old aspiring astronaut, college student, influencer and creator of the non-profit, The Mars Generation.

The Mars Generation has more than 1,800 students worldwide participating in an innovative Student Space Ambassador Leadership program and has sent over 36 youths to space camp.

We spoke with Abby about her inspiring plans to be the first astronaut to walk on Mars, as well as how she is exciting others about pursuing a career in STEM and how she manages to balance college, work and her personal life.

College News: How did you know you wanted to be an astronaut? 

Abigail Harrison: I’ve wanted to be an astronaut for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of looking up at the night sky and knowing that I wanted to explore the unknown.

 CN: Who were your role models growing up?

AH: Growing up I looked up to many astronauts—especially the women! Especially prominent to me was Astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger. Not only was she an astronaut, but also an educator. It was her great passion for sharing space exploration that made me look up to her. Three years ago this came full circle when she agreed to join The Mars Generation board of advisors.

 CN: What’s so special about Mars?

 AH: Landing humans on Mars is the next stepping stone for humanity in space exploration. It’s just hard enough to make it nearly impossible, but still doable. It will push our boundaries, challenge the very things we believed to be true about our universe, and allow us to make life here on Earth better. It’s also a great opportunity to search for extra-terrestrial life.

CN: What does your future look like in regards to reaching Mars? 

AH: After graduating from Wellesley this upcoming spring with a BS/BA in Biology and Russian Area Studies, I’m planning to go to grad school for a PhD in astrobiology or planetary sciences/geophysics. Following that, I will work for a few years doing scientific research to gain experience and then I will start applying to the NASA astronaut corp. Throughout this time span, I’ll also be pursuing other skills and qualifications which will hopefully aid in becoming an astronaut and eventually getting to Mars. These skills include obtaining my pilots license (this winter break), continuing to obtain advanced certifications in SCUBA diving, studying Russian and Mandarin Chinese, skydiving licenses and anything else that can strengthen by application to the NASA astronaut corps.

CN: Can you tell us a bit about your non-profit?

AH: The Mars Generation is a 501(c)(3) focusing on educating the public about the importance of space exploration and science literacy, inspiring young people about STEM, and supporting them to pursue careers in STEM fields. We run several core programs including our Future of Space Outreach Program, Student Space Ambassador Leadership Program and our Space Camp Scholarship program that provides full paid (transportation included) scholarships to students experiencing poverty.

CN: What inspired you to start The Mars Generation?

AH: When I was 15 years old I worked with Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano as his Earth Liaison, sharing his experiences living and working in space with a my social media audience. After working with Luca during his six months in space, I realized how important it is to provide inspiration and educational resources for today’s youth. If we want to see humans walk on Mars—to truly become The Mars Generation—we need to be creating a culture today that will result in a highly skilled and passionate work force in the future. Other than space exploration, educational advocacy is my greatest passion in life. 

CN: Why do you think girls are still underrepresented in STEM occupations?

AH: There’s a long standing stereotype that girls aren’t good at STEM—a stereotype which causes bias in the way girls view themselves and their performance and in the way that everyone else see’s and treats them. We often consider this kind of bias to be a thing of the past, but it’s really not. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it still exists and is hugely problematic.

CN: How can we combat this? 

AH: An incredibly important way to combat the underrepresentation of girls in STEM is to showcase women who are already doing great things in STEM fields. By having highly visible female role models we can teach today’s girls to be able to see themselves pursuing STEM fields, and today’s boys to not be surprised when they see girls excelling in STEM careers. It’s especially important that these role models are visible in pop culture and media—where they’ll have the greatest impact. 

CN: What advice would you give to young girls who are apprehensive about pursuing a career in STEM?

AH: I would tell them that it’s okay to mess up! It’s okay to try something and then decide to go a different path! I think that as girls and women we feel that we need to be better—perfect, even—at things we’re told by society that we can’t do. This is exactly the opposite attitude needed for a career in STEM! A huge part of STEM is messing up—it’s failing 99 times and then succeeding on the 100th. That’s because it’s hard, and it’s not something natural—you have to learn it. It can be really easy to be discouraged early from STEM after failing a few times if you don’t realize how normal and vital to the learning process this is. 

CN: How do you balance college, work and life obligations? 

AH: It’s hard. Balancing my personal life, my work with The Mars Generation, college, and everything else is a constant struggle. I’m constantly double tasking and trying to squeeze every last second out of my days. For example, when traveling to speak at conferences or represent The Mars Generation as an influencer at events, I frequently find myself doing homework in cars, trains, buses, airports, planes—really wherever I can. Sometimes this means getting creative with how I study or what materials I have available. Even so, there are plenty of times where I really have to ask myself: “What’s important to me? What do I want to put my time and energy into?” And that means sometimes having to sacrifice something in order to do something else well.

CN: What would be your number one piece of advice for anyone starting out at college?

AH: Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. College is such an incredible opportunity to learn—both from your classes and from your classmates. But in order to do so you have to recognize that everyone has different talents. So not being the best at something isn’t a reason to not do it, it’s a reason to ask “how can I learn?” and “who can I learn from?”

CN: What is it really like to be an influencer?

AH: Honestly it oscillates between being incredibly tiring and out of this world rewarding. Being able to share my journey towards the red planet with millions of people here on Earth has been an incredible honor.

Top 5 TED Talks For College Graduates

Top 5 TED Talks For College Graduates

If you’re a recent college graduate, you’ve probably realized that the real world is hard, and you’re likely wishing that you’d paid more attention to the professional and practical advice that was offered to you during college.

If you’re in dire need of some guidance that extends deeper than how to deliver a firm handshake, let us introduce you to the inspirational world of TED Talks. These College News favorites will help you stay positive, motivated and true to yourself.

Why some of us don’t have one true calling, Emilie Wapnick

Has the classic question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” ever repulsed or confused you?

In this illuminating talk, writer and artist Emilie Wapnick describes the kind of people she calls “multipotentialites”—those who have numerous interests and the desire to move on to something new after developing a specific skill.

“But then I would become interested in something else, something totally unrelated, and I would dive into that, and become all-consumed, and I’d be like, ‘Yes! I found my thing’, and then I would hit this point again where I’d start to get bored.”

If this sounds like you, Wapnick relates to the anxiety of pursuing a career and feeling abnormal. She emphasizes that this is an illogical, culturally engrained fear, and explains why multipotentialites are needed in the workforce just as much as those who are “specialists”. If you’re feeling stressed about choosing a major or finding the perfect job, find comfort in this talk.

Why you will fail to have a great career, Larry Smith 

Economist Larry Smith advocates that there is no such thing as a good career. Instead, there are great careers, passion, purpose and power in the word: “unless”.

“Passion is your greatest love. Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent. Passion, interest—it’s not the same thing. Are you really going to go to your sweetie and say, ‘Marry me! You’re interesting.’ Won’t happen, and you will die alone.”

If you’re about to settle into a job that your parents, your fear or your practicality have chosen for you, this extremely motivating talk could set you on a path to become extraordinary instead.

The skill of self-confidence, Dr. Ivan Joseph

Athletic Director and former varsity soccer coach, Dr. Ivan Joseph is often asked for the most important skill he looks for when recruiting. His answer: self-confidence.

For Joseph, confidence is the ability to believe in yourself, regardless of odds, difficulty or adversity. If you’re thinking that this is harder than it sounds, then you’re both right and wrong—Joseph insists that confidence can be trained with hard work. Through repetition, self-affirmation and by persevering through failure, you could develop this desirable skill.

“There’s enough people that are telling us that we can’t do it; that we’re not good enough. Why do we want to tell ourselves that?”

Graduating college and stepping into the real world requires confidence, but Joseph explains that we cannot expect ourselves to feel confident until we are familiar with a situation and know how to tackle it. The only way to achieve this is to begin. 

Why 30 is not the new 20, Meg Jay

If you learnt this lesson re-watching the iconic movie 13 Going On 30, you’ll know that assuming that life automatically sorts itself out when you hit 30 is naïve. Psychologist Meg Jay will encourage you to throw out your collection of pizza boxes and stop considering your 20s as a throwaway decade.

“Claiming your 20s is one of the simplest, yet most transformative, things you can do. Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You’re deciding your life right now.”

If you’re feeling lost as a twentysomething, Jay believes that one good TED Talk could help you to take control of your defining decade, use your weak ties, pick your family and get some identity capital.

Overcoming hopelessness, Nick Vujicic

This powerful talk by motivational speaker Nick Vujicic is packed full of valuable first-hand advice on overcoming hopelessness and learning to be kind to yourself and those around you.

“Think of the three biggest discourages in your life. They’re not your biggest discourages. You are. You are. It only takes seconds for me to tell you something discouraging but then, you may never forget my words.”

Transitioning into the job market can feel like a hopeless, unfair task, but being reminded that we are not born with hope but born to live through pain, could inspire you to have faith in your future. 

Further reading: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known In College