Alumnae Spotlight – Noreen Grice

Noreen Grice

Year of Graduation: 1985
School: CLA
Major: Astronomy
Current Occupation: Founder and owner of You Can Do Astronomy and works as the Planetarium Educator/Manager at the Children’s Museum in Hartford, CT

For our 85th Anniversary Celebration in April 2014, we held an Alumnae Speaker event, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Adventures of our Alumnae.” Noreen Grice (CLA 1985) was one of our incredible participants. Noreen is the founder and owner of You Can Do Astronomy and also currently works as the Planetarium Educator/Manager at the Children’s Museum in West Hartford, CT.  For those who were unable to attend our speaker panel, we wanted to make sure you would still have an opportunity to hear about Noreen’s work making astronomy and space science universally accessible.


Who are you? (Not your job or education, but who are you?)

I’m a person who likes to learn about new things, keep connections with people (and things that were familiar to me growing up), share experiences and help others to succeed. My husband, mother and I enjoy watching documentaries, especially about people and travel. I like staying in touch with people including teachers (yes from BU!) and friends through the years. My husband and I like going to tag sales, and I like rediscovering things from the 1970s and 1980s. And I like helping people have greater access to the night sky – by talking to them and by creating new resources for non-visual learners.

What was your favorite HER House tradition?
I enjoyed eating meals together, having meetings and having fun at special events. I’m an only child so it was amazing suddenly having a big “family” to share experiences.

What inspired you to pursue a career in making astronomy accessible for everyone?

My work in making astronomy accessible happened because I was in the right place at the right time. On a casual Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1984, I was working in the planetarium (at the Museum of Science in Boston) when a group of blind students came in line for the next show. I didn’t know anyone who was blind and what to do. My manager said to “help those people to their seats – that’s all you have to do.” I did that and after the show, as the audience was leaving, I asked that group how they liked the show. It turned out that they didn’t like the show and I felt terrible. That moment in time started me on a path to understand why the planetarium was not a good experience for people who were blind or visually impaired and what I could do to fix it. It was a journey that began in 1984 and still continues!

How did you turn an idea into a company?
The Museum of Science published my first accessible astronomy book, Touch the Stars, in 1990. The book had raised (tactile) astronomy images that could be used independently or to supplement a planetarium show. Touch the Stars was successful (mostly by word of mouth), and I revised it through 4 editions.

In 1999, I was contacted by a professor at DePaul University. He had seen Touch the Stars in a gift shop in Chicago and wondered if there was a way to make images from the Hubble Space Telescope accessible to readers who are blind. The Museum suggested that I work on this project on my own so I had to create a personal affiliation and chose You Can Do Astronomy. The book with tactile pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope was titled, Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy (2002) and was the first in a series of NASA books that I wrote.

In 2004, I officially registered You Can Do Astronomy LLC as a company in the state of Connecticut (where I live). I also serve on the Board of the Central Connecticut chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.

What advice do you have for those who are told they can’t do something, particularly something they are passionate about doing?
Being told “you can’t” is something I’m familiar with. I was raised by my mother and grandmother at a time when single parents were uncommon. I grew up in the public housing projects in Malden and saw neighbors being hauled to jail. I knew that education would be my way out of the projects. When I applied to BU, some people said that I wouldn’t be accepted or couldn’t afford it. I got accepted and finances were very difficult, but I managed to piece together financial aid and student loans to just cover tuition. My uncle helped a little with rent so I could live at the HER House.

The day after the blind students came to the planetarium, I took the bus to Watertown to visit the Perkins School for the Blind. I wanted to understand what went wrong in the planetarium. As I flipped through some Braille books in their library, I asked if many books had raised pictures. The librarian told me that not many books had raised pictures “because they were expensive and labor intensive.” As I heard the librarian’s words, I remembered something about growing up in the housing projects. Some of my classmates would tell me that their mothers said I could not come over after school because I was a “project kid.” I remember that I didn’t understand why someone who didn’t know me would assume I was a bad person and how it made me feel sad. And then I thought about the planetarium experience and how the Museum had made an assumption that visitors who were blind probably would not come to the planetarium. I couldn’t change what happened to me as a child but maybe I could make changes for these people and remove barriers to the night sky. And that’s how I took “no” and turned it into “I will do it!”

People who say you can’t do something should get out of the way, because you can do it. You can make positive changes for others and the world around you. You can make the word a better place. We can all do it, together.

January Miss Cooperative: Shannon Chapman



January’s Miss Cooperative has been a long-time favorite in the house, winning the coveted title not once, but three times during this school year. Known in the house for her delicious baked goods, beautiful artwork, and encouraging post-it notes, CFA senior Shannon Chapman is perhaps best known for her altruistic, caring spirit. Also the Vice President of the HER House, Shannon has been living in the HER House for four semesters and will be extremely missed when she graduates at the end of this semester!

Describe yourself in three words?

… honest, easy going, and dependable.

What’s a fun fact about you most people don’t know?

I’m a fraternal twin! her

What’s your favorite thing about living in the HER House?

The kitchen becomes a place of conversation- I love learning about everyone’s lives. We are a family!

What does cooperative mean to you? 

Cooperative- generally speaking, it includes a willingness to help others and respect the house and its mission. A cooperative environment is also a supportive one.

What are your future goals? 

I plan to volunteer and work next year. I will also apply to grad schools for art education! It would be amazing to work at a school that incorporates gardening. It is becoming more popular in city schools.

How would you describe the HERlies living in the house? 

The HER ladies are.. incredible. They are all so inspiring, hardworking, and talented.

Alumnae Spotlight: Martha Muñoz


Martha Munoz

Martha Muñoz

Year of Graduation: 2007
School: CAS
Major: Biology
Current Occupation: Post-doctoral researcher; The Australian National University

Other notable jobs since graduation: Researcher at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain.
Awards or additional achievements: Harold C. Case Award – Boston University, Fulbright Fellowship, National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, Herchel Smith Fellowship (Harvard), Chapman Fellowship (Harvard), John Parker Merit Fellowship (Harvard), NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, NSF Post-doctoral Research Fellowship (declined in order to accept position in Australia), Raymond B. Huey Best Student Presentation Award – Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Positions held while living in the House: Clerk, Steward, Professional Cook’s Assistant

Who are you? (Not your job or education, but who are you?):
I am up in the clouds and down in the dirt. I am a dreamer and an empiricist. I am natural and a naturalist.

What was your first impression of the HER House?
I first visited the HER House on a snowy day in early winter. The first thought when I entered the house was that it was warm. It wasn’t just warm against the cold outside – there was warmth from within that drew me in. I felt peace, affection, comfort, and love.

For those of us who do not know anything about Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, why are lizards cool? 
Oh my goodness, where to even start? Are you sure you want to ask this? Evolution bestowed lizards with an extra dollop of awesome. Did you know that some lizards can flatten and expand their ribs to create ‘wings’? Seriously, check out Draco volans. Chameleons can not only change their color, they can move their eyes independently and shoot their tong tongues at speeds greater than 20 body lengths per second. Plus they’ve got those weird zygodactylus toes. Then there’s the basilisk – those guys walk on water, which is a really neat parlor trick. That’s nothing compared to the horned lizard, which can shoot blood out its eyes to deter predators. Have you seen a frill-necked lizard? Google it now. They’re bizarre beyond explanation. Look at a Lyriocephalus scutatus and ask yourself how the heck that happened. And look at the schnoz on the Pinocchio lizard – how and why did that evolve? And look at geckos and anoles – they have tiny microscopic hairs, termed setae, on their toes that stick to surfaces through van der Waals forces. Watch a Sitana display. It’ll blow your mind. And did you know that snakes are limbless lizards? Let’s not even get started on snakes! Many species can disarticulate their jaws so as to fit humongous prey into their mouths. And as long as we’re talking about limbless lizards, check out Bipes biporus. I mean, I could spend the rest of my life studying lizards and still have more questions than answers. Everything about lizards fascinates me, excites me, and perplexes me. They’re so weird, so beautiful, and so enigmatic.

Have I gone on too much of a tangent? OK, here the main thrust: Lizards exhibit an staggering array of shapes, sizes, and forms. They’re adapted to nearly every type of habitat on earth, and they’re incredibly diverse. How did they become so diverse? Why do they exhibit such a impressive array of adaptations? And they’re ectotherms, so their physiology is very tightly linked to the thermal environment. They are excellent ‘canaries in the coal mine’ for understanding how climate change is going to impact biodiversity.

Biologists peel back nature’s layers to reveal its beating heart and see how it works. We seek to quench our wonderment with nature by unraveling all of its mysteries. There is no deeper mystery to me than lizards.

What opportunities does a Ph.D. in the sciences provide? 
People with PhD in sciences do all sorts of things. Some people go into industry, many go into teaching, and a small percentage stay in academia and work at higher ed institutions. To me a PhD in the sciences provides a critical way of thinking. All things are scrutinized, nothing is known for certain, and claims without sufficient evidence should not be considered. A PhD in the sciences is a commitment to logic, reason, rigor, and empiricism. And because we’re obsessed with nature, which exceeds all art and poetry, in my opinion, we also have a heightened appreciation for beauty, elegance, and complexity.

Why did you decide to do research in Australia?
Lizards. Next question.

Just kidding! I chose Australia because I was ripe for an adventure. All my life I wanted to be a professional scientist traveling the world to do research to better understand nature. This job in Australia is that dream realized.

How did you become involved in mentoring high school and undergraduate students who are not traditionally represented in the sciences?
I became involved because once upon a time I was a high school student and an undergraduate from an underrepresented group. I know firsthand the difficulties associated with gaining equal access to opportunity and equal respect. I also know how crucial it is to have positive, relatable models and how educators have the power to broaden students’ horizons. My mentorship reflects recognition and appreciation for the privileges I have been afforded, and a commitment to making some small impact in the scientific community.

What advice would you give to others looking to mentor students?
Don’t teach your students facts. Teach them to figure things out on their own. Encourage them to set high goals, conquer challenges, and build self-confidence. Teach them to set high standards and then exceed them. Encourage them to dream big. Help them find what fills them with joy and to follow that path confidently.

October Miss Cooperative: Chelsea Lasky


Chelsea Lasky

Last month, our very own residence assistant, Chelsea Lasky, was selected as October’s Miss Cooperative. Chelsea’s strong leadership has been a positive addition to the HER House and we are thankful she’s always around to give us some much needed advice and guidance.

Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, Chelsea completed her undergrad in Cleveland, Ohio before coming to Boston University to complete her doctorate for Physical Therapy. Read on to learn more about our Miss Cooperative!


Describe yourself in three words?

Positive, Loyal, Driven

What’s a fun fact about you most people don’t know?

I know how to read music and play the violin.

What’s your favorite thing about living in the HER House?

Having 23 sisters who are always willing to give their opinions, share when they
can and just be there to vent to after a long day.

What does cooperative mean to you?

Cooperative means a lot to me: looking out for everything and everyone in the house, going out of my
way to make this a home to always come back to, having fun doing day
to day tasks with your best friends among others.

What are your future goals?

I would love to work as a pediatric physical therapist, and have the opportunity to be on a
interdisciplinary team doing research for better quality of life and
longevity for children suffering lifelong disabilities.

How would you describe the HERlies living in the house?

My little sisters–each eccentric in their own way, and I couldn’t imagine my
time here without any one person. Being a grad student and not knowing
anyone outside my program last year was tough. As soon as I moved into
the house, it was just like having my siblings here. Everyone truly
cares about me and looks out for my well being. Basically, the HERlies
are diverse, and the 24 of us together are more of a force than any
one of us individually.

Celebrating our 85th Anniversary!

We are just a few days away from our 85th Anniversary Celebration of the Harriet E. Richards Alumnae Association!

To date, we have nearly 75 alumnae, guests and current House members currently signed up to attend our Annual Meeting & Brunch this weekend – on Sunday, April 6 at 11am. Other events throughout the weekend will surely help us commemorate cooperative living and spirit too. You can read about events taking place this weekend, including the Brunch, here.

If you are interested in attending, but missed the registration deadline for any of the events, please contact HERAA.

Alumnae at Alumnae Tea 2010

Alumnae at annual Tea 2010