Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Celestial Perspective

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Celestial Perspective

Article excerpt

An early fascination with stars in the sky kept Dr. Gerceida Jones focused even in hostile learning environments and has driven her to develop innovative ways to engage her students and foster appreciation for science.

When Jones, a master teacher in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University, was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, she went to see her chemical oceanography professor during his office hours. Jones says he was coming up the hall, saw her, turned around and went the other way. She waited patiently at his office, but he never returned.

It was one of many unpleasant encounters she recounts of her undergraduate days, including, Jones says, one professor telling her, "You don't belong here." She says she comes from a family of strong women, and although she felt isolated because she was the only Black student and often the only female in her classes, she persevered.

"My first love was actually astronomy," says Jones, who grew up on the Mississippi River in Caruthersville, Missouri. "I used to put a blanket on the grass and just lie there looking at the stars and trying to count them.

"I also would sneak a peek at lunar eclipses as a child, even though my parents forbid me to do so," she adds. "I have always felt a deep connection to the heavens while stargazing."

After winning first place in a science fair in junior high school, she decided to study astrophysics. In high school, a social studies teacher introduced her to oceanography. At Michigan, she became the first African-American woman at the university, and indeed the country, she says, to earn a bachelors in physical oceanography

There were several academic advisers who were not particularly supportive, until her sophomore year when she met Dr. Guy Meadows, whom she describes as having a genuine concern for his students.

"I could tell right away that I could trust him," Jones says. "At one point, he had to defend me. He told the other professors to 'back off and leave that little girl alone because she is determined to make it,' and they did."

A professor of solid and fluid mechanics also proved to be a mentor; that's what drove her to study fluid dynamics, a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics, in graduate school. Fluid dynamics is the natural science of fluids in motion that includes the study of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. …

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