Sunday, May 20, 2012

Celebrating WhyMommy

As you know, my friend and fellow mom, Susan Niebur (aka WhyMommy), passed away on February 6, 2012.  Susan was a wonderful wife and mother, a faithful friend, an accomplished scientist, and a writer whose words moved mountains.  Susan's interlocking communities of mothers, SJE parents, and bloggers are still feeling the reverberations her absence causes in our lives.  I've seen women in parking lots who resemble Susan and, after an initial surge of happiness (Oh, THERE she is), have cried all the way home. 

On Thursday, in School of Community, I recounted how, that morning when I was getting ready, I chose a dress because I wanted to look especially nice for the day, then realized that it was the same dress I wore when I stood beside Susan when she was received into the Catholic Church at her confirmation... and promptly started to cry. 

I wanted to look especially nice because, on Thursday, the Girl Scouts at SJE celebrated Susan in a special way with "Girl Scouts Do Science," a program that included speakers and opportunities for the girls to do hands on experiments. 

With the help Susan's husband, Curt, I located a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who was willing to talk to our girls.  She gave a great presentation -- she works on the Cassini mission to Saturn.  The girls were so excited by the idea of a spaceship taking seven years to get to a planet and asked many interesting questions.  She talked about how the Cassini spacecraft was analogous to a human body and how, with math and science knowledge, we are able to communicate with it so that it will find things out for us about this very interesting gas giant planet. 

She also talked about how exciting the Space Shuttle program was for her as a young girl and how affected she was by the Challenger disaster -- something about which most of our girls had not yet learned.  It was interesting to see how many questions that passing reference generated -- they seemed to fixate on the disaster rather than on how inspiring and awesome the whole program was. 

The middle school science teacher at SJE then talked to the girls about her journey to loving and teaching science -- she told us that, as a young girl, she had not liked science.  She had always loved math, but science didn't really capture her interest until high school.  At that point, she became fascinated with biology and how all living things, from the smallest cell to the ecosystem around us, work in harmony and fit together.  She showed a cool video by They Might Be Giants on the scientific method and encouraged the girls to question, question, question and test, test, test.

Finally, we had another of Susan's friends (and a member of her prayer group) who is a biomedical engineer give us a great talk on her dissertation research.  In it, she worked on creating artificial tissue.  Her powerpoint presentation fascinated all the girls -- how they could separate the different kind of cells present in tissue using different kinds of solutions that would attract only one kind of cell, then grow those cells in culture, with the goal of then putting these different kinds of cells back together to create artificial tissue that works like the original.  At the end of her talk, she told the girls that we need people like them to be scientists, researchers, biomedical engineers, chemists, in order to help find a cure for cancers like the one that killed Susan.  It was such a powerful moment.  All of us adults ended up in tears.  All the hopeful potentiality in those earnestly listening little girls... drat. I'm crying again. 

All I can say is that Susan would have loved it.  I loved it on her behalf.  I was so honored to be able to plan and bring to fruition this work in honor of one of the most wonderful people I've ever met.  And I think that Susan would have been right there with the girls as they did experiments, getting her hands dirty as she showed them how oil and vinegar (with the help of a little Dijon mustard and a whisk) can become emulsified, how static electricity works, how to combine vinegar and baking soda and an empty water bottle hands to blow up a balloon without using your mouth, and other fun things.  At every experiment station, I could feel Susan there, gently encouraging the girls, really getting excited with them as they learned about density, static electricity, or whatever. 

Thank you, Susan, for inspiring me and for sharing your light with me and so many.  I think of you every day, and pray for you all the time.


  1. Thank you so much for having this beautiful idea on how to bring science to young women -- a cause Susan was so passionate about -- and sharing the day with us all.

  2. Thank you for bringing Susan back for a visit in this way. Her memory is such a blessing to so many. This is awesome!

  3. Thanks for sharing - and reminding how we carry such people with us alwasy!

  4. She would be so very proud. You did great.

  5. I love this so much. I want to do something like this in California in her name... in her spirit. I don't know how or when or ... well, ... I just want to. Susan inspired me in so many ways and I want to bring her love of science to my daughter and her friends. This is amazing. I can feel her here. You did something wonderful here. And I don't want it to end with just one presentation.

  6. So beautiful, so resonant with Susan's spirit.

  7. This is just great. The kind of memorial Susan would have wanted.