back to news Dec. 17, 2018

Mother of two, astronomy and physics student set to graduate after unique educational journey

Ness Mayker had to let go of one passion to make room for another.

Life for the astronomy and physics double major is, admittedly, a little hectic. Between balancing preparations to graduate this spring, graduate school applications, her research in the Department of Astronomy and her family life, the mother of two has every second of every day planned out.

And for Mayker, that’s OK. With support from her family, a wide range of financial aid opportunities, and plenty of ways to connect with other students and faculty, she has just the backing and encouragement she needs to succeed.

“I love it,” she said. “I’m really happy, and I feel like I’m living my dream.”

Mayker’s winding academic process has been over a decade in the making. She began her journey in 2004 at Columbus State Community College but stopped just short of earning her associate’s degree after realizing she didn’t know what step she wanted to take next. After apprenticing under her partner’s mother, who was a fiber artist, Mayker and her family moved to Zanesville, Ohio, where she started her own fiber art business.

An unexpected nerve injury in 2012, however, temporarily robbed Mayker of her ability to use her hands, and she was forced to end her business.

“I was very depressed,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t feel like I could just find another job because I was suffering from this disability with my hands.”

Then one day, Mayker began watching the educational television series, “The Universe.” A desire to learn about astronomy quickly blossomed, and she felt a new calling. She began taking free online astronomy courses — some multiple times. She bought a telescope, joined the Columbus Astronomical Society and volunteered at the Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio, where she helped set up equipment at public events.

“My problems didn’t feel so big anymore,” Mayker said. “I really enjoyed learning about all these things very far away, and I realized I had a sort of inspiration, a passion, that I hadn’t felt for a very long time.”

Mayker was falling in love with astronomy, and at first, she was content with being a citizen astronomer. But she kept having questions, and the free courses she was taking couldn’t answer them. So, in spring 2016, she decided to go back to school, and for her, Ohio State was the place to be.

Mayker has leveraged scholarships and grants to help pay for her studies. After earning scholarships from the James L. Smith Student Support Fund and the Bevra Hannahs Hahn, MD, Undergraduate Merit Fund, among others, she managed to get her tuition covered her senior year. She also works as a student researcher in the Department of Astronomy. Over the summer, Mayker was accepted into the department’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, and this January, she will present her research at the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

Mayker’s ambitions don’t stop with graduate school. She wants to continue on to earn her PhD, follow the academia track and become a professor. Her biggest goal is to continue doing research.

Mayker’s academic adventure so far has been unique, and she’s grateful for the opportunities Ohio State has provided her. Though she suffered a setback after being injured and closing her business, she has found a way to shoot for the stars — literally.

“Even though I had to let go of my first dream, I feel like this is even more true to what I should’ve been doing,” she said.