Connecticut educator invents women-in-science coloring book
Posted April 17
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — Sifting through boxes of childhood possessions at her parent's house in Maryland recently, Sara MacSorley discovered a part of herself she'd forgotten: how she had managed to meld her young talents into the person she is today.
"I found little story books and things that I wrote in third grade with teachers' comments like, 'you're going to be a writer,' and it's kind of funny to look back and see that and to hear people other than my parents tell me, 'I always remember how you always bridged art and science. That's pretty cool that you're still doing that,'" said MacSorley, director of Wesleyan University's Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.
Still doing that includes a new coloring book, "Super Cool Scientists," MacSorley wrote, which celebrates little-known women making great strides in the field of science. Published on Jan. 24, it features stories and black-and-white drawings of 22 living women who work in science and technology careers.
The illustrator, Yvonne Page, who works in Middlesex Community College's marketing department, worked in an artistic style that MacSorley thought would fit her concept.
"I didn't want it to be so realistic it was like looking at a picture and I didn't want it to be super caricature-y or cartoony either. I wanted an in-between style for drawing people and hers really fit that."
MacSorley said about a year ago she felt out of touch with her science background so she started brainstorming a project that she could do outside of work.
"I was also dealing with some of my own anxiety issues for the first time and trying to figure out which tools worked best for me to deal with that," she said.
MacSorley arrived at the idea for her new project once she began looking for the types of coloring books she'd like to work with — and found none that featured females in the sciences.
Once she got her concept settled and had a rough idea of how to flesh out her ideas, MacSorley launched a Kickstarter campaign. During its 45 days online, 207 backers pledged $8,053, allowing her to surpass her $6,000 goal.
That figure was based upon a book with 20 scientists.
MacSorley arrived at the women she featured by first contacting a few female role models she had looked up to early in her career. Since they are living, each scientist featured in the book was asked to approve the final version of her biography and the accompanying illustration, MacSorley said.
She also got recommendations from people she worked with "whether it was a specific story or a particular science field I was trying to have represented, I wanted a really wide diversity." The coloring book represents a field scientist in Africa, computer animator and mathematician and many others.
"I wanted young people reading it to see that there are a lot of different options when people say, 'I can be a scientist,'" she said.
One of the women, LaNell Williams, was a college student who worked at Green Street's Girls in Science summer camp in 2014 — its first year.
"We didn't have a physicist and wanted to have physics represented. LaNell is still in grad school," MacSorley said, and conducting research projects.
"I really wanted to have not just folks who were established in their field but folks who were really just starting their careers," MacSorley said.
Williams is African-American, said MacSorley, who learned Williams had won an NSF Graduate Fellowship and will be conducting research at the Fisk Vanderbilt program, "something that's really coveted," she said. "She fit a lot of the things I wanted to represent."
Plus, Williams had started out wanting to be a journalist.
"It goes to show that whenever you decide you want to do this, you can. You don't have to think you want to be a scientist from age 6, you can change your mind — and we do change our minds the more we're exposed to things," MacSorley said.
"Yes, science is for everybody but because historically women and people of color have had different barriers, it's not always an equal playing field — or it hasn't been and we're catching up," MacSorley said.
Plus, many kids can relate better to pictures of Williams and other such as Anne Galyean, who works as an aquatic analytical chemist — and is a professional mountain biker. In her photo, "she's got on her baseball hat, she's got tattoos. I might relate more to that than a picture of Marie Curie in her outfit . it's sort of like history in the making," MacSorley said.
By the end of the project, MacSorley had others she wanted to feature beyond the 20 included in the original specs but couldn't because of costs. The extra $1,000 raised from the Kickstarter enabled her to add two more women, both astronauts.
Getting their stories onboard meant going through NASA's marketing department, which wasn't easy.
"We had to go through legal and with our time frame, I wasn't sure it would happen but it worked out at the last minute. That's why we added the other two slots because they were just too good not to feature," she said.
And the response has been terrific, she said. In March, the SuperCoolSci Twitter account surpassed 1,000 followers and children — and adults — are posting their colored pages on the Facebook page.
Turns out, MacSorley is very picky about what designs she chooses to color — and the tools she uses.
"I like a certain brand of thin-tip Crayola marker; others like crayons or colored pencils, which can be used for shading."
Some people even use water to blend the colored pencils, she said.
Her favorite coloring patterns are geometric ones or those that repeat, not necessarily because they are mathematical.
Every time she returns home and speaks with her old friends, MacSorley said she's surprised to find that each remembers her as being equally talented in science — and art.
It wasn't until MacSorley sat down to create this coloring book, which combines her childhood interests, that she recalled her penchant for creativity. She had begun coloring "right on the cusp of when the adult coloring book craze went crazy," after her mother, who was a psychology and sociology double major in college, remembered conversations she had during those years about coloring to reduce stress.
"And then, all of a sudden, it's like you can buy coloring books in line at the grocery store," MacSorley said. "It's kind of pervasive now."