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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Kelly Ann Herbst

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Dr. Kelly Ann Herbst.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

College of William and Mary 1990-1997 (graduate studies in Physics) The Virginia Living Museum (1997 -present) I have always worked in the Planetarium, currently serving as Astronomy Educator.

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I began working in my first planetarium during my college years as a volunteer. My love of astronomy began with visits to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in my hometown of New York City. I began volunteering at the Virginia Living Museum in their observatory in 1992, to give me something to do that wasn't working on my doctoral thesis. I was hired as Planetarium Lecturer in 1997 once I finished my Ph.D. and have worked in Astronomy at the museum ever since. I have served as Assistant Director of Astronomy, Astronomy Curator and now hold the title of Astronomy Educator. I love sharing my passion for the cosmos with others, and am one of the lucky people in this world who gets to do what she loves every single day.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

Since 1990 (31 years now)

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Don't be intimidated by science and math. They are the language of the universe and you can understand them if you put in the effort. If something fascinates you, pursue it, learn about it, and make it part of your life. There are no limits other than those you set for yourself.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

As a woman in science, I have the privilege of serving as a role model for the young women who visit our museum. I also serve as a reminder to others that "scientist" does not mean "crazy old white man in a lab coat" as is so often portrayed in movies and television. I have been greatly honored to serve as mentor to both young men and young women, and hope to continue to do so for many years.

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

Being in a very male-dominated field like physics, I had some run-ins with men who felt that women would not be able to handle the rigors of that kind of science. Fortunately, none of these men were my immediate superiors or even my direct peers. They were people from outside the realm of physics who decided they needed to give their opinions on whether or not women were suited to science. The men I actually worked with were incredibly supportive, and were often my staunchest defenders. I realize that not every woman has had the benefit of being surrounded by that level of support, and I am deeply grateful to the many wonderful people I have worked with in my career, both as a student and as a professional.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as an artist? In what ways?

I now have the privilege of being a role model to my daughter, who will be graduating from high school in 2022. I hope I have been able to show her that no path is closed to you simply based on gender.

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