Breaking Barriers in Astrophysics
Jada Louison telescope.jpg

Four years ago, when Brooklyn native Jada Louison ’22 entered Barnard, she thought she would major in chemistry and take the pre-med track. But then, unsurprisingly, she discovered a love for astrophysics in a way that many Barnard students unearth things they’re passionate about — on a whim. Thanks to the course Observational Astronomy, which she took as a first-year, staring up at the stars to understand the galaxies and beyond has been a four-year journey. “I love [learning about] astrophysics because it inspires me to study things that are greater than us,” said Louison. 

However, as a woman of color in a field dominated by white men, she is aware of the extra work she has to put in to succeed in the discipline. “I have to constantly worry about my identity and the spaces where I feel comfortable and belong, on top of learning this hard science,” said Louison. She might be an outlier in astrophysics, but her graduating Barnard astrophysics friends help to keep her confident and focused on the stars. “I’m fortunate enough to be at Barnard and to see different people who have a lot of marginalized identities represented — people who are nonbinary, people who are women, women of color are more represented at Barnard, and it makes me feel like I do belong.”

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Louison's physics friends. All five seniors make up the small department's graduating class.

The ability to learn one-on-one from Barnard and Columbia professors and mentors, such as with Columbia’s principal investigator David Schiminovich, also helps to keep Louison interested in an astrophysics future. The tight-knit community fostered by the modestly sized Physics and Astronomy Department allows the senior to know her professors well enough to comfortably and continuously ask questions and test theories without hesitation. 

With the continued celebration of the Barnard Year of Science and the 2022 Commencement only nine days away, the College is proud to highlight this inspiring video of astrophysics major Jada Louison. “I want to be the representation that I’ve never had, and I want to pave the way for other women of color to continue on and feel like they can do astronomy,” said the scientist. After graduation, Louison will pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but her message will continue to resonate with Barnard students in the years to come.

text saying "Year of Science" surrounded by various scientific paraphernalia, such as beakers, gears, and nuclear symbols