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WILLIAMS BAY — Yumna Majeed of Pakistan is an aspiring astronaut and an active space educator. When she was young, she dreamed of traveling in space. She also wanted to bring back the dinosaurs, like those in “Jurassic Park.” Thankfully, she’s since given up on resurrecting dinosaurs. But the dream of someday being an astronaut persists.

“I am obsessed with going to the Moon,” Yumna said.

At just 26, Yumna has established herself as a leading educator of space science and astronomy in Pakistan. When she was just starting college, Yumna began a program called “Exploration by Yumna,” renamed “Exploration Cosmos to the Classroom,” in Lahore, Pakistan, her native city.

A smiling young woman with dark hair wearing glasses and a red sweater holding a round shoulder patch featuring an astronaut, the Earth, a rocket, the Moon and a star field with the words Per Aspera Ad Astra across the top arc and Exploration Cosmos to Classroom along the bottom arc.
Yumna Majeed of Lahore, Pakistan, shows a patch created just for her by an officer in the Pakistani Air Force. It includes the motto: “Per Aspera Ad Astra,” or: Through Hardships to the Stars.

Internationally recognized for her space education program in Pakistan, Yumna was in Williams Bay on Dec. 11 with her friend, Lucie Hake of Lake Geneva, for a tour of Yerkes Observatory and to visit the GLAS Education office. Hake is founder of “Expand Your Imagination,” a space and AI school program, and International Little Artists.

It’s not easy being a space educator in Pakistan, especially if you’re a woman, Yumna said. She went from school to school in Lahore, knocking on doors and explaining her program to sometimes skeptical school administrators. “Following your heart is not always easy,” Yumna said. “But what was important for me was the kids.”

Among Exploration’s school programs are hands-on workshops, day and night sky observations, exhibitions of space rocks, STEM lectures, space art, space storytelling and live on-line sessions with astronauts. Universal accessibility to space education is Yumna’s goal. Everyone has a right to see the beauty beyond the sky, and no one should be deprived of it, she said.

Yumna’s visit to GLAS wrapped up a two-month visit to space museums and planetariums in the U.S. Yerkes was the only observatory on the itinerary. Yumna said she found Yerkes, especially the architecture and the massive 40-inch refractor telescope, “amazing.” She was also impressed with GLAS and its commitment to making science and technology education accessible to everyone. GLAS’s work with the blind and visually impaired particularly interested her. Yumna said she has eye problems and has difficulty seeing at times. She said she wants GLAS to help her learn to teach astronomy to students who are blind and visually limited.

A woman in a red sweater, her arms reaching upward toward a large wooden ring attached to a giant white metal tube with silver and blue attachments inside a giant curved brick interior.
Yumna, left, gets a closer look at Yerkes Observatory’s 40-inch refractor with some help from Adam McCulloch, Yerkes telescope operator and astronomer for both Yerkes and GLAS Education..

Yumna said she’s always had an interest in the stars and outer space. As a youngster, she wanted to know about the limits of the sky. She is a self-taught science communicator, using the Internet to visit space science websites and communicate on-line with astronomers and space scientists around the world. She joined on-line space education groups and astronomy groups.

Pakistan is an emerging nation on the Indian subcontinent neighboring the People’s Republic of China, Afghanistan, India, and Iran. Pakistan, sadly, does not yet have an astronaut program.  Telescopes are expensive and rare in Pakistan. Pakistan’s education system is not focused on hands-on practical learning, but exam-based learning models, Yumna said. Students are pushed to be either doctors or engineers. And indeed Yumna is a trained Medical Laboratory Technologist by her choice. But she is a space educator first. It is her passion. And she wants to spread that passion. “There is space in space for everyone,” Yumna said.

Yumna’s work in Pakistan has led to interviews on Pakistani media and on the BBC. She has earned a number of awards and international recognition,but her favorite is a telescope that was signed by astronauts. She works for the International Astronomical Union’s Office for Astronomy Outreach, she is the National Point of Contact for the Space Generation Advisory Council, an organization for young space professionals; she has been appointed National Outreach Coordinator of Pakistan for The Organization for the Proliferation of Space Studies; and she is national coordinator at Universe Awareness, an international space education program.

Yumna came to the U.S. in October for an AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) conference in Las Vegas. The two-month tour that followed was organized and paid for by a group of American friends and acquaintenances who love science and stars, Yumna said. “I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” she added. “Through my life I was supported by people who were not rich, but they had big hearts.”

During her visit to GLAS, Yumna was treated to a lunch of chicken and dal. Dal is a Pakistani dish made of yellow split peas cooked in spices. The meal was prepared by GLAS Education Director Kate Meredith.

Meredith said she’s interested in having GLAS reach out to Pakistan.

Four smiling people, three women and a man, wearing jackets and sweaters standing in front of two telescopes in a large office space filled with furniture and equipment.
Yumna Majeed, left, at GLAS Education office, with, from left, GLAS staffer Adam McCulloch. GLAS director Kate Meredith, and Lucie Hake of Lake Geneva, a friend of Yumna.

“I’ve been very interested in pursuing things, particularly with Pakistan, because I do have shirt-tail relatives there,” Meredith said. “I do know people in Lahore and I know that the need is there, and they’re very interested in astronomy.”

Meredith said that when she works with students she points out that science and technology are cross-cultural.  “We can contribute to global understanding while we do technology,” she said.

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