The Science Runway is a group of dedicated women inspiring girls to pursue their love of science.

Michelle Larson

Michelle Larson

What do you do every day?

I am the CEO of the Adler Planitarium in Chicago. I have a role that weaves together my interests and experience. No 2 days are alike! My job is to get out of the way, and to help get obstacles out of people’s way. I want all my staff to shine; their ideas to take hold.
I also spend a lot of time externally, helping raise the Planitarium’s visibility.

Why do you love it?

I like the challenges of something new. My family has always joined that I never make the same thing twice! I love having different challenges every day. I also love to help people understand science.

What were your moments of fear and challenges in your career?

I’m a late decider. I changed my major 4 times! I chose physics and tried to keep all doors open. I tried many different jobs and kept learning. I was lucky to get at NASA where I decided to move on for my PHD. I tell students to not worry. If you don’t know what you want to do, just keep at what you are doing and doors will open.

What are some of the latest innovations in science that you are most excited about?

I’m an astrophysicist so there really is so much more that I do not understand. So the innovations that I am most excited about are those that help us discover new planets, new solar systems, etc. There are new telescopes that allow us to do this. I like pushing to new limits on seeing more, learning more, new questions. These advances also allow us to bring more hands on deck to understand the universe.

Where did you grow up?

I am a military kid. Although I was born in Massachusettes, I also grew up in Turkey and Alaska.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My 2nd grade teacher: Mr. Derby. He always pushed us and also personalized our lessons. We would have notebooks/journals in the classroom and he would write in them. I used to get challenging math problems (I enjoyed math in school). This made me feel that the problem he gave me to solve was just for me!

Describe an experience where you adapted your approach to resolve a sticky situation.

The first time I had an exclusively administrative role I was given the difficult task of relaying information on budget cuts to staff. Rather than making a phone call, I set up meetings in my reports offices and got to know their departments. I was very transparent on relaying the information that there would be less money, and they all appreciated it. No-one came to their territory nor explained things to them like that before.

What is your unique talent?

I love all aspects of an organization. I peek into man-hole covers to see what’s going on. One role I had I actually kept a change of clothes so that I could operate a crane and be dressed for a fundraising gala in the evening. I am comfortable in both settings.

Tell us about your personal style.

My personal fashion tip? I ask others, specifically my husband and daughter, for help. I know I do not have a sense of fashion.

Is there a current book or book you love?

I like Onward by Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Reuben (based on her blog). On the fiction side, I really like Under the Tuscan Sun. I like to cook so this book gave the best of many different topics.

What is your favorite website or fun activity?

My favorite web site is Astronomy Picture of the Day. My guilty pleasure is getting outdoor time with Star parties, where we camp out in a rural field and enjoy the stars via telescopes at night. There is no cell or internet service to distract you.

Who inspires you?

My daughter inspires me. She is 8 years old and has an unbridled creativity and curiosity. The sky is the limit for her! I am also inspired by all other people, my husband and staff. I love watching people do things in ways that I wouldn’t have thought.

What’s next for you?

I’m doing what I love now! When I retire, I wish to travel. I enjoy seeing how communities solve problems.

Vera Rulon

Vera Rulon

Angela Salerno Robin

Angela Salerno Robin