Kelly Cox’s son not only helped her to think about her future, he also helped to inspire her career goals.

When Kelly was pregnant with her son, now five years old, it pushed her to plan the next phase in her life. She decided that she needed to go back to school after more than 20 years of working in corporate America. So while Kelly hit the books at Olive-Harvey College, her son was close by at OHC’s child care center, easing one of the many challenges Kelly faced as she returned to school.

Starting her college career thinking about pursuing a degree in pharmacy, Kelly took a biology class with Dr. Oliver Pergams and was hooked. That, coupled with her experience volunteering to write grants for outdoor programs for youth, helped her form her new plan: creating science curriculum and programs for the whole family. This was also partly inspired by her time spent in nature with her son and other children from her community. She saw that there is a need to meet people where they are when it comes to learning science. And she thinks it’s especially important to expose people in urban settings to nature, to be more aware of the world around them, and to care about the environment.

“There is a disconnection with the learning that starts with younger kids. We are missing opportunities to make things interesting for them early on – once they get to high school, it’s harder to catch their interest.”

But, she says, science relates to your life at any age – and it’s making that connection clear that interests her.

Learning to navigate the college system was hard, but Kelly persevered through any obstacle thrown at her, financial, academic, and otherwise. She’s also jumped into outside learning opportunities like an internship at the Field Museum, an internship at the Hiram College Field Station, and writing a program proposal that she presented to Senator Duckworth about supporting families as they work to improve their lives. This summer, Kelly is spending time at the University of Illinois at Chicago as part of the Bridges to Baccalaureate program, which encourages scientific research careers in underrepresented groups. She’s working on two projects with her mentor: one to study the water off the coast of Michigan and the second to study wood chips infected with a fungi that they are hoping to be able to replicate and use as a sustainable building material.

Kelly is focused on getting her associate degree – she has one class left – and moving on to pursue her bachelor’s and ultimately a PhD. She hopes these pursuits will be funded through a fellowship program she is working on being a part of. If anyone can do it, she can.

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