A Circuitous Journey

By Simon Morrow
Andy de Fonseca
Photo: Olivia Dimmer

As a kid, Andy de Fonseca (AE 3rd Year) brought her telescope to school as a prop for picture day. But without high marks in her high school science classes, de Fonseca felt like space could only ever be a hobby for her. Instead, she pursued other interests, getting degrees in theater, cinematography, and history. De Fonseca worked in marketing and as a photographer, and she even published a science fiction novel with real scientific theories woven into a fantastical world.

Then, de Fonseca started volunteering at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

“The scientists were all incredibly supportive and encouraging,” she says. “They helped me feel that I actually could do something in science.”

First, de Fonseca founded the Chicago branch of The Planetary Society, growing it into the second-largest branch in the world. Then, in 2016, while on maternity leave, de Fonseca watched SpaceX’s Falcon 9 land on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship. “It was the coolest flippin’ thing I had ever seen,” she says. “I had to be part of that world.”  

She started with some community college courses. When they went well, she enrolled at Illinois Institute of Technology. Beyond overcoming her fear of math, the past couple of years haven’t been easy. Last year de Fonseca was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, de Fonseca has been working from home with her four-year-old daughter and ended up spending her winter break finishing an incomplete fall course. But, she says, “even at my lowest, darkest point, quitting is worse than failure.”

De Fonseca is pursuing her degree through the Accelerated Master’s Program and has earned several competitive awards including the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which she received in January. As she did with her childhood telescope, de Fonseca has her sights set beyond Earth.

“I want to help get humankind to a point where people can say, ‘I don’t want to live on this planet anymore,’ and then be able to help them go live on another planet.”