The Silly Scientist Who Speaks Mandarin

Joy with a Mother and child participating in the Moms and Tots Group.

Gordon College Senior Joy Kimmel has more interests than she always knows what to do with. Although a Mathematics major and Physics minor, Joy is also on the Gordon College Volleyball team, and is almost fluent in Mandarin.

As someone who had been studying Mandarin since fourth grade, it makes sense that going to China was a lifelong dream of Joy’s. So even though she wasn’t sure she would get in, she applied to the Gordon College Global Internship Program– and her initiative paid off.

Two summers ago Joy was accepted into the program, and spent two months in Beijing, China at a nonprofit social services provider named New Day Creations (NDC). NDC has a community center, foster home, gift shop, and also focuses on providing jobs to the local Chinese. While there, Joy served as the community intern and helped to develop a moms and tots group for 1-3 year olds and their mothers. The purpose of the group was to be a fun play hour that also helped to teach the children English. Joy liked the program because all high schoolers in China have to pass an English proficiency test if they wish to graduate high school, and since this test determines the rest of your life trajectory, Joy was happy to be involved in giving these children a head start.

Joy, the mothers, and the children singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star at the Mom’s and Tot’s Group.

Although being in charge of creating and running the daycare program was a great career development experience for Joy, she especially loved just connecting with the mothers and getting to know them personally. One mother specifically became close with Joy, and even took her to a zoo, the Beijing Wildlife Park, on her 20th birthday. At this zoo there was a “rare animal exhibit”, which ended up being raccoons. When Joy laughed at it the woman thought she especially liked the raccoons, so she made her stand next to the raccoons and she took pictures of her. Another highlight of the zoo was that Joy got to sit in a caged car that drove through the bear exhibit with chunks of meat stuck to its side so that bears would jump up onto the car and eat the meat off of it.

Joy with the “special animals exhibit”.
A bear eating meat off the caged car Joy was riding in.


China was an eye opening experience for Joy, however she still felt that she needed experience that was directly relevant to what she was studying. So even though Joy had never done research before, her professors kept recommending she apply for an undergraduate research opportunity**. So last spring she applied for and got accepted to an REU, research experience for undergraduates, at Ohio Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts college very similar to Gordon. This culminated in Joy participating in a 10 week research program that she got paid to do*. She had an advisor, a research topic, and a partner, and together they worked on mathematically modeling an ice sheet (continental glacier) and the growth and decay of the ice sheet over time. They created the mathematical model to help understand the dynamics behind the growth and retreat of the ice sheet over history.When asked about the impact this internship had on her, Joy expressed that

It got me interested in environmental things. I had never been interested in it before, but after looking at ice sheets for a whole summer, I started to care about global warming, and how our actions are affecting the ice and the climate“.***

The internship was a very different experience for Joy, but she enjoyed becoming friends with the eight other students in the program, and getting to know the professors in a work atmosphere, where they asked her to call them by their first names. One specific experience that stood out to Joy was going to Cedar Point, one of the largest amusement parks in the nation, with the other students and some of the professors. Joy also had the opportunity to look at Saturn, it’s rings, and it’s biggest moon Titan through the huge telescope in the Perkins Observatory.

Yes the internship was filled with fun adventures and friendships, but the research was also intense, and Joy has since continued to work on it, even going so far as to make it her Senior Honors Thesis.

Overall the research internship helped Joy realize that she likes research, especially where Math, Computer Science, and Physics all meet. This realization led Joy to want to apply to a PHD program in Computation Sciences Engineering and Mathematics (CSEM), which she now plans on applying to and going into right after she graduates this semester. But don’t worry, even though Joy’s future plans are intellectually rigorous, we can all assume she will find some way to have a little too much fun doing it all.

Joy with her research partner, Kristen Lee, at OWU.

Tip from Joy:

“Don’t be afraid of getting rejected, or being part of a program that isn’t perfect for you. Step out of your comfort zone, don’t just apply for the safe internship, apply for things that will teach you something- they are much more beneficial for developing your career, and your understanding of yourself. Do something crazy.”

*The National Science Foundation, NSF, gave Joy free housing, $600 for transportation, $1,000 for food, and a $5,000 stipend.

**The NSF posts all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) research opportunities for undergraduates every year online.

***Joy explained that “The west Antarctic ice sheet is about 1/3 of Antarctica, and it is expected to completely disappear in the next 200/900 years, which will raise sea level about 2 feet. The rest of Antarctica, if it melted, would raise the sea level another 8 feet. The west Antarctic ice sheet is extremely unstable, and scientists believe that there is no stopping it- it is going to melt. We are headed towards another ice age basically”.