back to news Nov. 17, 2017

ASC student receives President’s Prize for science accessibility initiatives

Anna Voelker has a dream to make science more accessible, specifically for people living with physical and cognitive disabilities. Now, she is one step closer to making that dream a reality.

Voelker is one of two Ohio State graduating seniors awarded this year’s President’s Prize, a $50,000 living stipend and up to $50,000 in funding to implement an innovative project.

Thanks to generous endowments and philanthropic contributions, Voelker — a science communication and accessibility major — will be able to implement AstroAccess, a three-part astronomy outreach initiative of her own design.

“A unique feature of AstroAccess is that it has the power to positively impact people on the local, national and global level,” Voelker wrote in her application. “It will directly benefit people with disabilities as well as anyone, anywhere who has an interest in furthering science inclusion.”

Her research will take her to Cape Town, South Africa, where she will spend five weeks at the South African Astronomical Observatory making network connections and learning about their outreach efforts.

She’ll also go to London to collaborate with the Royal Shakespeare Company on its Shakespeare and Autism outreach, an initiative Voelker has already been involved in at Ohio State. The program surrounds the use of Shakespeare-inspired theatre games to help children with autism improve their social and communication skills. Voelker was inspired by these games and turned them into science-based activities.

Her work will culminate in the first ever international Science and Astronomy Accessibility Conference, where Voelker aims to bring in speakers and presenters, run workshops regarding the use of 3-D printing to make science accessible for individuals who are blind and use her theatre games to help people with autism better understand scientific principles.

It is my goal to make science a more diverse, welcoming and inclusive field,” Voelker said. “At the end of the day, my message is simple: if science is important to you, then you have the potential to be important to science. Your unique experience is needed, your ideas are needed, you are needed.”

Voelker is set to begin her work following her graduation in May 2018.