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UMass Student, Bloomberg Share Stage

Love of science the tie that binds

 UMass Lowell freshman Kierra Walsh, 18, of Billerica. Photo by Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun
UMass Lowell freshman Kierra Walsh, 18, of Billerica. 

Lowell Sun
By Rick Sobey

LOWELL -- Since Kierra Walsh was 6 months old, she's been a regular at the Boston Museum of Science.

Walsh, now 18 and a student at UMass Lowell, would dress up as a bee -- playing in the Discovery Center's hive. For the last four years, she's been volunteering at the museum.

Does that story sound familiar? Maybe involving one of the richest people in the world?

While growing up, Michael Bloomberg -- the former mayor of New York City and business magnate -- used to visit the museum all the time on weekends. Starting as a 10-year-old, the Medford native went to science classes there.

As a result of the similarities between Walsh and Bloomberg, the Billerica Memorial High School graduate was invited to speak at a recent event with Bloomberg. He had learned that Walsh had a similar upbringing, and the billionaire extended her an offer to speak at a ceremony -- an event celebrating his $50 million gift to the museum.

"He thought I was a younger version of him, but I won't get into politics," said Walsh, a biology major, last week.

"I would've never expected that I'd come to his attention," said the Honors College student. "It was so surreal, absolutely amazing."

At an event that included prominent politicians, such as Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, she gave a speech about growing up at the museum and volunteering there.

She stressed how Bloomberg's massive donation would benefit so many people, and she thanked him for it.

The $50 million that will support educational programs, was given in honor of his parents, William and Charlotte Bloomberg.

After the ceremony, she got some one-on-one time with the philanthropist.

"It was so cool," Walsh said. "We talked about college and the cost of education. That was a big part in me coming here (to UMass Lowell)."

She received three scholarships for college. She has a transfer option for Cornell University, but that's up in the air due to the cost.

Walsh is interested in attending Cornell for its veterinary school. Ultimately, she would like to become a veterinary orthopedic surgeon.

While in high school, she started a zoo that was modeled on the Boston Museum of Science's Live Animal Center. She had snakes, lizards, guinea pigs and more.

"Pets are family. People treat them like their kids," she said. "I once saw a pet recovering at Tufts, and the owners' faces just lit up. It was amazing."

Twice during high school, she earned the President's Volunteer Service Award. She was recognized by President Barack Obama after completing more than 300 hours of volunteer work in a year.

"We're all incredibly proud of Kierra, and proud to play a role in her education," said Billerica Superintendent Tim Piwowar.

"One of the things we say is what you can do with a Billerica education is limitless," he said. "She is a great example of that."