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Alicia McGeachy: Finding Balance between Science and Outreach

Modified: June 13, 2017
Alicia McGeachy at the Museum of Science and Industry
“Why?” and “how?” are two of Alicia McGeachy’s favorite questions. Her inquisitive mindset was encouraged by her father, who motivated her to consider why things were the way they were at an early age. Her interest in science grew during high school, where she had a chemistry teacher who made the subject engaging and relatable.
 
“Sometimes science seems a bit distant, and I can find myself asking ‘when am I ever going to use this knowledge?’” Alicia says. “This teacher brought it closer to home for me, inspiring me to continue down this path and participate in programs in my community.”
 
For her undergraduate work, Alicia attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and pursued a degree in Chemistry. She received a scholarship through NASA and spent her summers working at different facilities throughout the country. During this time, her passion for science solidified.
 
“I was interning at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and I had the opportunity to explore marshes in Brooklyn,” she explains. “I grew up in Brooklyn, and I never realized that there were marshes in my back yard! It was great to canoe down the waterways taking samples. This inspired me to think about science in a different way and opened my eyes to other opportunities.”
 
After graduating early from Spelman, Alicia decided to pursue a graduate degree in Chemistry. She learned about Northwestern through the Introduction to Graduate Education at Northwestern (IGEN) program and immediately fell in love with the campus.
 
“It was a very cold day, especially coming from Atlanta, and I noticed all of the flyers on the ground and thought, ‘that is genius!’” Alicia laughs, “You’re walking in the cold, so of course your head is down, and that is where you will see the information. People here were addressing things in a different way and I loved that.”
 
Now a fourth year PhD candidate, Alicia works with the Center for Sustainable Technology, a National Science Foundation funded Center for Chemical Innovation. Her research looks into the impact that nanomaterials have on biological and environmental systems to better understand the potential adverse effects of these materials.
 
“We are trying to change the way that materials are designed,” says Alicia. “At the beginning, we ask the question, ‘what could potentially go wrong, and how can we work to avoid that?’ We want to know how we can best balance technological advancement with societal benefits.”  
 
During spring quarter of 2017, she participated in the Graduate Engagement Opportunities (GEO) Community Practicum through the Center for Civic Engagement. This program encourages graduate students to connect theory and practice through a quarter-long internship with a community organization. Participants also complete a graduate seminar on engaged scholarship. Alicia’s internship was through the Museum of Science and Industry, where she worked on science programming activities to engage youth with science and mathematics.
 
“The GEO program gave me an opportunity to engage with the public while still utilizing my love for science,” she explains. “I find museums to be the center of people’s cultural experience: you go there to explore the world. It is something that can change a life, and I know that I valued that experience as a kid. It can have a long-lasting impact, so I really wanted to work in that environment.”
 
After she completes her degree, Alicia hopes to find a career that balances science with outreach.
 
“I want to do something that benefits the greater good, but I’m not ready to separate from science,” Alicia says. “I’d like to find a way to marry the two.”
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