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A Century of Connection: College of St. Benedict’s Ties To NASA [VIDEO]

A Century of Connection -- A WJON News SeriesST. JOSEPH — It was Nicole Kessler‘s second grade dream to work at NASA. It’s a dream many people didn’t think she could achieve.

Kessler is a 2008 Physics graduate from The College of St. Benedict. The physics program graduated twelve students that year, only two of which were female students.

Kessler says she doesn’t know what she would have done without her friend Anna, who was also going through the program with her.

The two women studied together and helped each other get through the major.

In 2008 St. Ben’s started Mathmatics, Physics, Computer Science Research Scholars (MapCores).

It’s a program that supports women who are interested in majoring in  Science, Math or Computer Science to try and recruit more women to the field.

Funding for the program came from a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant. The grant is primarily used for student scholarships to help offset the cost of college.

Kris Nairn is the associate professor of Mathematics at St. Ben’s. She says most jobs in math, physics and computer science require a bit of programming skills.

It’s a support system that Kessler didn’t have when she was a student. She says she envies the students that get to participate in the program now.

“If I didn’t have this other physics major Anna, I think getting through the program would have been more difficult.”

Kessler’s junior and senior year she interned at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland where she studied heavy water on Venus.

Her childhood dream was realized when she packed up her belongings and moved to Houston where she landed her first job as a flight controller for NASA’s International Space Station.

While at the Johnson Space Center Kessler worked with the Environmental and Thermal Systems Operating group. While in mission control some of her main duties were life support and emergency response.

Nairn says there has been a shift in the number of women in the program, “we’ve noticed not only has there been a change in the number of women staying in our disciplines but also those selecting to go to graduate school.”

The MapCores program continues to be a cohort for young women interested in math, physics and computer science.

See more of our A Century of Connection series

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