Poet and Scientist Dr. Kathleen Gillespie Brings Art to STEM

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Biologist and poet Dr. Kathleen “Kate” Gillespie, Ph.D., is a STEM and STEAM advocate who believes there is poetry in science.

“Inspiration is a key tool in the arts and in the pursuit of scientific discovery,” said Dr. Gillespie.   “The ability to communicate science is best accomplished by telling a story that will bring context and comprehension to a scientific principle.”

For over 10 years, a New Jersey native who earned her doctorate in marine biotechnology from the University of Maryland, has volunteered to engage Maryland students in learning complex principles of biotechnology and microbiology. At Baltimore Underground Science Space, a community science group that supports and mentors students in a iGEM program, she worked with students in solving scientific problems using synthetic biology—including plastic degrading bacteria for cleanup of bottles in Baltimore Harbor. She helped students from third-graders to undergraduates learn about biotechnology through lectures and labs at Towson University’s SciTech program. For A Bridge to Academic Excellence (ABAE) at the University of Maryland, she participated with pharmacy students mentoring high school students.

“Science is influencing the face of our society on a global scale because of the huge scope of the problems humanity faces–from emerging disease to climate change,” she said. “I find that initially children are excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) but quickly become discouraged because they are not having a good grasp of the science and math concepts. Integrating an art component into STEM through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) can open new avenues of creative thought and inspiration that will ultimately bring new perspectives to the students learning STEM disciplines.”

For Dr. Gillespie, arts and science have a close bond. During her undergraduate years as a biology major at Rutgers University, she was also engulfed in the literature program and studied with professors like poet Amiri Baraka. “When I was completing my doctoral degree, I used the outlet of creative writing as a stress reliever,” she recalled. The result was etching out a reputation in Baltimore’s literary and theatre community as Kate Gillespie, published poet, short story writer and playwright. Her poetry has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Silver Blade Magazine, The Baltimore Ekphrasis Project and Syzygy.Journal. Short stories have been published in The Baltimore Urbanite Magazine and Writers and Words. Her plays have been staged at Baltimore’s One-Minute Play Festival at EMP Collective and Glass Mind Theater. In addition, she’s a Writer-in-Residence at Renaissance House Writer’s Retreat in Martha’s Vineyard.

“I have met Black and Hispanic students who have never given any thought as to how science was relevant to them. They got excited over video games and videos but didn’t think they could ever create anything with science themselves,” explained Dr. Gillespie, who even had a class trip to take students to see Black women scientists in the movie Hidden Figures. “As a Black woman in the sciences, I find my personal brand of diversity to be the least seen. Because of this, I have made a point to go out and interact with science-based youth programs to SHOW not tell them that they too can be a player in the world of STEM and STEAM.”