Alumna Spotlights

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.

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.

Alumna Spotlight: Emily Torgrimson

This year marks the 85th anniversary of HERAA, and thus the existence of 85 graduating classes of incredible women worth knowing. In the lead up to the Alumnae Weekend on April 4-6, 2014, we will introduce you to one alumna from each decade starting with the most recent and working our way back to our earliest House residents. You can read our other Alumna Spotlights here

As we head into the season of giving thanks, we’d like you to meet Emily Torgrimson (COM 2006). She currently lives in Minneapolis, MN and serves as co-founder and executive director of Eat for Equity, an organization with roots in the HER House. A COM Journalism graduate and recipient of a Masters in Public Health from the University of Minnesota, Emily has helped “build a culture of generosity through sustainable community feasts.” Through her work she has expanded Eat for Equity to ten different cities across the United States and engaged citizens to raise over $100,000 for local and international nonprofit causes.

Emily at work with Eat for Equity

Emily at work with Eat for Equity

Who are you?

If we are what we eat, I am dim sum from my childhood in Hong Kong, jello salad from my family’s return to small-town Minnesota, and my mom’s pesto made with basil grown on our farm.

What is the best meal you had during your time living in the HER House?

Everything I know, I learned from house meals. I’m joking, but also serious. I saw how food was a delicious way for people to share their stories, by making the “hippie” grain salads or paella they had grown up with. And I saw how food could be a creative outlet, when cooks themed meals around fire or Midwestern cuisine [I take pride in having introduced many people in the house to jello salad and hot dish]. I saw how food brought people together in a natural and powerful way, when we invited our classmates and friends to the shared table.

Emily at one of the first Eat for Equity dinners at the HER House

Emily at one of the first Eat for Equity dinners at the HER House

Eat for Equity started as a small event held at the HER House, but you’ve helped grow it into a national non-profit organization. Please talk about how Eat for Equity began.

In my senior year at Boston University, Hurricane Katrina hit. I wanted to help, but I didn’t have much money to give. And so when I saw a recipe for jambalaya, I thought out loud, “What if I made a New Orleans-themed meal? Do you think people in the house would donate a couple bucks for hurricane relief?” My friends in the house said, “Yes! And what if we invited everyone we knew? What if we made it a party, not just a dinner? And what if we tried it?” When 100 people showed up, we realized that this basic idea could be transferred to any cause, as a way to build a giving community around social change. And Eat for Equity was born.

Please talk about experiences serving as executive director and what it’s taken to bring the organization to its current state.

Create space for others to join you and help you succeed. When I first brought Eat for Equity to Minneapolis, I did it all. I picked the organization, I planned the menu, I invited the guests, I cooked for 50 people in kitchen, I cleaned up. And don’t get me wrong – others helped out a lot. But I while I was doing a lot of work, I wasn’t doing enough to create opportunities for others to join me and help me succeed.

Others took it on, and I realized that this was much bigger than me – and then I got to dream bigger, and focus on expanding Eat for Equity to other branches. I couldn’t start those branches myself, but I could create opportunities for others to lead and co-create. I used to think that leadership was forging ahead to make things happen. Now I know that leadership is also creating a structure – recipes, ingredients, and a balance between guidance and independence – that allows people to take ownership toward the same goals.

What advice do you have for the HER community on expanding or embarking on a path toward professional growth and success?

Be open to changing the dream. You may be doing something ten years from now that you couldn’t imagine today. I studied journalism at school and my original dream was to be an environmental journalist.

For many years, I worked in public radio, while juggling part-time jobs and volunteering for Eat for Equity. Working as an associate producer on The Promised Land, a Peabody Award-winning public radio show, I realized that telling important stories wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to be part of the story.

Emily and fellow HER alumna Clara Herrero (CAS 2006) at an Eat for Equity- Oxfam American collaborative event at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee

Emily and fellow HER alumna Clara Herrero (CAS 2006) at an Eat for Equity-Oxfam America event at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee in 2013

I wouldn’t be here today if I had not made my first dream come true. I started to realize that I really enjoyed my part-time work, that there was a through line with those jobs – they were about food and community – and that maybe that was a good plan B.

I went back to school and got a Masters in Public Health. When I became open to changing the dream, that’s when things started to fall into place, opportunities started to open up and Eat for Equity started to take off in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

Why would we want to meet alumnae from the graduating classes of 2000-2009 at the Alumnae Tea on April 6, 2014?

My housemates from that era are amazing women. We’re pursuing our passions and our own paths, we’re making a difference, and we’re proud to be part of a continuing legacy of sisterhood and cooperation. My friends from the house are my best friends from college – we’ll have a lot of fun together and with you.

Have suggestions for other alumnae we can interview and feature in the Alumna Spotlight? Email your ideas to HERAA at

Alumna Spotlight: Ariana Alishjahbana

This year marks the 85th anniversary of HERAA, and thus the existence of 85 graduating classes of incredible women worth knowing. In the lead up to the Alumnae Weekend on April 4-6, 2014, we will introduce you to one alumna from each decade starting with the most recent and working our way back to our earliest House residents.


To start with, meet Ariana Alisjahbana (CAS 2011). As a Research Analyst at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank working at the intersection between economic development and the environment, Ariana is utilizing her Economics and Environmental Policy backgrounds to tackle deforestation and global warming in her native Indonesia.

Who are you?

I am an Indonesian-American half-hippie, half-capitalist working to combat global warming while also promoting development.

Which of your many accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am proud to have unleashed the potential of Indonesian young leaders through my work and extracurricular activities. In my office, for example, I facilitated the hiring of three young and dynamic Indonesians to head up our Indonesia office. Outside of work, I select and facilitate the best Indonesian young professionals to go to international conferences such as the G20 and G8 Summits. There are many exciting things going on in emerging countries such as Indonesia. Young people are leading the action.

As a recent graduate, what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of transitioning from college to your first job?

The lack of support system once you step outside the gates of college. I got into two accidents when I was an intern, therefore I had no insurance. Apart from that, there were also fewer resources to lean on once you are in the “real world.” You’re on your own, there are no guidance counselors, no advisors, no classmates, no professors, and no HER House girls to support you through tough times. You have to seek them on your own. That has been challenging but also rewarding.

What advice do you have for others facing this same challenge?

Have health insurance!!! Apart from that, my advice is to never let your fears get in the way of opportunities you want to pursue. Be aware and learn the language of office and professional conduct. I would strongly recommend reading career coach books such as Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office or Lean In before your first salary negotiation.

What did you learn from living with 23 other women?

I learned that if you are lucky enough to live in this house, it will leave a mark on your life. I have never lived with 23 women in such a tight knit environment where every day has its ups and downs. You learn how to be selfless; you learn how to give to the community; you learn how to help others; you learn how to argue; you learn how to keep the peace; you learn how to handle conflict; and you learn how to make lifelong friends. Oh and you learn how to cook for a crowd!

Why would we want to meet the alumnae from this current decade, the graduating classes of 2010-2013, at the Alumnae Tea on April 6th?

We are chasing our dreams every day in our own ways. We are new to the post-college world and are hungry for advice. We will want to learn how you got to where you are today the passions that drive you.