University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Department of Geosciences
Climate System Research Center
Math. Geology. Teaching. Dance. Queer. All these communities -- but she once felt alone.
not enough science:
Though Shaina loved the stars, her high school offered no opportunity to study them, or the math that astronomy requires — only basic life sciences. “I never took physics. I never took calculus. I never took astronomy, or chemistry, anything like that.” Feeling unprepared for college, she went to community college first. “I just brushed up on all the things that I didn't get in high school.” She studied pre-calculus, physics, and astronomy, then transferred to the nearby state university.
Physically sick and anxious, Shaina couldn’t pass her exams and get into graduate school.
With her dance business, she was able to manage her own schedule and work around her problems, but it involved hiding her condition from clients and co-workers. What’s more, she longed to get back to science. She began looking through the university’s course catalog.
Through Transform Our World, you can learn about international, national, and regional Youth Climate Summits (Shaina took part in the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit) and other ways that teens can get involved in learning, practice, policy, and activism.
Shaina also was active in the model United Nations program.
She recommends the Food Empowerment Project's Fight For the Ocean project and Youth Climate Save.
out on a limb
Shaina was barely making rent, and couldn’t afford the tuition for a degree program. “I emailed some professors and was like, I have no money. I just have a desire to be in your class.” And they were so nice. And they were like, ‘Yeah, just show up.’ Eventually she was able to pay to get a record saying that she had attended a semester of classes. She knows she couldn’t have done it at a school where she was not already known (because of being an undergraduate there.) Eventually she was admitted to the graduate program — the only one she applied to, because she could only afford the fees for one application.
She felt behind in everything, especially math. She only had only done a math minor in undergrad, which made her the only person in the program without a full math degree. But she chose her program to join because it had flexibility, encouraged exploration, and didn't require the GRE. “Thank goodness for the other three students in my cohort,” says Shaina, who credits her fellow students’ support for helping her re-enter the academic world. The transition was so hard. She struggled with anxiety, depression, and medical issues. This left her facing panic attacks quite often. One even happened during a final exam in her first semester! When the panic attacks happened she would hide in the bathroom until she felt ready. Her friends in the program would check on her and make her feel better. They knew everyone struggled sometimes, and what she needed was support and encouragement.
on the outside
Shaina was accepted to a doctoral program in UMass’s geosciences program on the basis of her math abilities, but she had some catching up to do before she’d be taken seriously as a member of the research group: They said, “Okay, so you have no background in geosciences you've never gone out in the field, you need to catch up on literally everything. So I took oceanography. And I started learning about how climate models worked and like trying to figure out. Like ice sheet history and global climate change…”
Justice and Climate:
Shaina is involved in climate justice. Read about her presentation at the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit here.