Math (STEM). People said it was too hard. People felt that STEM was a white male-dominated role. Well, in the immortal words of Public Enemy: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE…
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 18% of all students graduate with a STEM degree, among them, 2% are Black students.
For starters, Commodore Grace Hooper, who graduated with her PhD. in mathematics from Yale University in 1934, spearheaded the effort to create the first computer language – COBOL – while serving in the United States Navy. BELIEVE THIS HYPE.
In the 1920s, Bessie Coleman became the first African-American female aviator to earn an international pilot’s license. Following in Bessie Coleman’s footsteps, Lt. Cmdr. La’Shanda Holmes, Lt. Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, Lt. Angel Hughes, Lt. Cmdr. Chanel Lee and Lt. Cmdr. Ronaqua Russell are currently the only Black female aviators in the U.S. Coast Guard. And by the way, Dr. Mae C. Jemison flew on the Space Shuttle. BELIEVE THIS HYPE.
More recently, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was instrumental in developing the vaccine to protect us from Covid-19. She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as a Meyerhoff Scholar, an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science.
I witnessed this firsthand. Dr. Shayla Sawyer is an associate professor, Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, whose Nano-Bio Optoelectronics research program is expanding the fundamental understanding, engineering processes, and potential applications of hybrid inorganic/organic materials for optoelectronic devices and sensors. By the way, she also played Division 1 Women’s Basketball at Hampton University.
If you saw the movie, Hidden Figures, you were introduced to Katherine Johnson, who earned her B.S. in mathematics and French from West Virginia State College in 1937. She was the person who checked the mathematical equations that sent the first American to orbit the earth, and later to the moon. The cell phone that you use to find your way using the Ground Positioning System (GPS) was developed by Gladys West.
Jewel Plummer Cobb was an African-American biologist, cancer researcher, professor, dean, and academic administrator. She contributed to the field of cancer research by studying the cure for melanoma.
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is an African-American medical physicist known for the development of a method using laser-activated nanoparticles as a potential cancer treatment. She was one of 66 Black women to earn a Ph.D. in physics in the United States between 1973 and 2012.
Mexicana Laura I. Gomez is one of the leading ladies in tech. Gomez would go on to work as one of the only Latinas at Google and YouTube, and then she became a founding member of Twitter’s international team, where she led Twitter en Español.
In every STEM Field, women of color have distinguished themselves. These examples are just a few – the tip of the iceberg – of what you can achieve in STEM. It won’t be easy. The road these women took required hard work and sacrifices. But all of them succeeded in STEM and are a part of this tradition. BELIEVE THIS HYPE.
By Lee Whiteman