Black Educators in STEM History

Innovative problem-solving requires the convergence of different points of view. Creativity coming from a diverse range of experiences is what fuels innovation in STEM. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are industries in which a lack of diversity persists. Representation is the best way to foster an environment that supports diversity, so it’s important for Black students to see themselves as educators and scientists in order to become educators and scientists. 

Addressing Equality in STEM

The problem of diversity in the STEM field is a historical culmination of discriminatory practices including unequal access to education, a lack of recruitment opportunities, and no exposure to role models at an early age. It’s hard for Black students to relate to role models who haven’t had similar life experiences, so it’s important to highlight the groundbreaking achievements of Black innovators. Having STEM role models can foster curiosity in young children to explore fields they may have previously thought unavailable to them. Black educators and scientists play a crucial role when it comes to supporting and encouraging future generations. 

Notable Black Educators in STEM

Dr. Mae Jemison

Pioneer Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman in space in 1992 at the age of 36 when she served as the science mission specialist for mission STS-47. She conducted experiments in life and material sciences and was a co-investigator in the bone cell research experiment. Prior to becoming an astronaut, she served in the Peace Corps and opened a private practice as a doctor. After her mission, she continued to work as a physician, STEM advocate, and futurist, as well as appearing on an episode of Star Trek. She aims to use advanced technologies to help developing countries with sustainable design. 

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson was called by Time Magazine “the ultimate role model for women in science.” After being the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, she completed groundbreaking work in physics, as well as serving as head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Committed to social justice, Dr. Jackson founded the Black Student Union at MIT which saw enrollment numbers for Black students go from 2 to 57 in just one year. Dr. Jackson conducted successful experiments in theoretical physics and also advanced telecommunications technology while working at Bell Labs. 

Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi

Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi is an astrophysicist and educator who grew up in tough neighborhoods in the US including the 9th Ward in New Orleans, Watts in Los Angeles, and South Park in Houston. After graduating valedictorian from high school, Dr. Oluseyi had a brief stint in the Navy before getting his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford. He has gone on to appear as a commentator and scientific authority with the Science Channel, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic. His goal is to inspire the young Black scientists of the future. 

Why Representation Matters

Black educators show Black students a world that’s possible once they leave the classroom. Positive and negative experiences around STEM education in the classroom are strong indicators of how a Black student is going to view those jobs as an adult. According to a Pew Research Survey, “Black adults view scientists and engineers as among the least welcoming of Black colleagues” compared to other professional groups such as athletes, musicians, clergy, doctors, military, lawyers, and business executives. This unfavorable view is the result of a culmination of negative experiences in STEM education. As many as 34% of Black students in the STEM workforce report being made to feel that they didn’t belong in a certain classroom. However, 69% of Black college graduates working in STEM say they pursued the field because someone “made them feel excited about their abilities in STEM subjects.” So, representation and encouragement go a long way to level the playing field for diversity in STEM, and positive experiences in STEM education make a difference.