Pioneering Astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon Spends Day Inspiring Undergrads

On March 27th, Gonzaga hosted Dr. Rhea Seddon, a surgeon-turned-astronaut-turned-author. She became a surgeon in an era when it wasn’t popular for women to do so, was one of the first six women to be accepted into the space program, and after all that, wrote the book about it. In her visit to campus on March 27th, she engaged with students and spoke about her varied career.

“I was fascinated to learn about what happens to the human body when it goes into space,” she told a group of twenty students during a lunchtime Q&A. During her time at NASA, Dr. Seddon completed three space flights and a number of medical experiments, including a comparative study of how women and men adjust physiologically during long periods of time in zero gravity.

The group came from all over the College of Arts and Sciences, ranging from pre-med biology to political science. She had wisdom to impart about leadership, careers in the sciences, and gender equity. Students’ candid questions covered topics from space physiology to workplace discrimination. When asked about the challenges she faced as a woman in the male-dominated fields of medicine and aerospace, Dr. Seddon encouraged the young women in the room to stick to their passions.

“If you know what you want to do in life, and you have a goal, you can say, ‘I’ve got to get through that,’” she said. “I promise there are going to be challenges for all of you. You think, ‘I am not going to let that stop me, because I have a goal and I know where I’m going.’ The strength of the passion you have gets you through.”

The Women’s and Gender Studies department was the lead sponsor for hosting Dr. Seddon.

“This is the first event we’ve done with the STEM fields,” said Dr. Ann Ciasullo, professor of English and chairperson of the Women’s and Gender Studies department. “We don’t have a lot of overlap with them, but these are questions about gender and equity that are important in these fields that are still male-dominated.”

Bethany Beekly ’17, a biology major who will pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience in the fall, reflected on the Q&A.

“I appreciate that she talked about her family, including that as a priority and something to consider as you’re making these career decisions,” Beekly said. “There seems to be a backlash toward that, and that’s frustrating to hear. That’s a judgment no one else is qualified to make for you.”

In the evening, Dr. Seddon addressed the wider regional community in Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Ballroom, which was filled to capacity with over 500 people. She recounted her career and her experience writing her memoir, Go For Orbit, urging the audience to have, above all things, “passion, purpose, and perseverance.”

Dr. Rhea Seddon gives the ‘thumbs-up’ to the assembled crowd of over 500 people in Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Ballroom, March 27

Bringing such an important speaker to campus requires collaboration from many parties. Dr. Seddon’s talk was made possible by the College of Arts & Sciences; the Women’s and Gender Studies Department; the Ed and Bunny Renouard Distinguished Lecture Series in the School of Engineering & Applied Science; the Academic Vice President; the Smith Family Chair in Medicine at the University of Washington Medical School; the Departments of Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics; the Faculty Speaker Series; the Comprehensive Leadership Program; and the Gonzaga Study Body Association Speakers Fund for making the event possible.

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