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Going Up

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Click here for Alexandrea’s profile.

As children, we all look up at the stars and down at the rocks and insects. We all want to reach out to any animals we see around us. We all create simple “experiments” to test things we think might be true. It’s only when someone actually grows up to become a scientist or engineer that these stories take on a greater weight, are seen as harbingers of wondrous things that were always meant to be. But, as our friend

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Rich Robinson says, “anyone can be a scientist.” It’s just a matter of how strongly that impulse burns in us… and how determined we are to pursue it.

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No elevator necessary….

Alexandrea Bowman is the perfect embodiment of the idea that wonder and curiosity don’t come with their own yellow brick road, but that you have to carve out your own path to cultivate them as you can. Alex, like most of our “Secret Lifers,” was passionately drawn to science from the time she was about 10 years old. After high school, she got her Associate’s degree, but then she took a break in her education. During this time, Alex entered the world of work, holding jobs with the Boy Scouts, the ASPCA, and Pfizer. Her next step was to re-start her education—she enrolled at Queens College (part of the City University of New York) to study environmental biology. Again, though, after a short while, Alex had to go back to work—for the next three and a half years, she worked as an elevator dispatcher, coordinating the elevators in multiple busy New York City buildings. It was a

very stressful job. (“When you’re an elevator dispatcher,” Alex told us, “you have the building managers yelling at you, your boss yelling at you, and the elevator mechanics yelling at you.”) Finally, Alex re-enrolled at Queens College and began her study of geology. Now, at the age of 32, she’s preparing to complete her Bachelor’s degree, move onto graduate school and make a career for herself as a research geologist. And in spite of the bumps on her road, Alex only sees the positives:

“There are advantages to being older when you go back to school—because you’re more focused, and you know what it is that you want, and your professors tend to take you more seriously. They know that you’re there because you want to be there—not because your parents are forcing you to be there. I did have a professor who was my age—that was a little weird. But he was a very good mineralogist, and I learned a lot from him.”

Clearly, Alex always had the fire to be a scientist—she just had to make her own way.

Watch her videos, follow her links, ask her questions.

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.