Despite a national push on diversifying the the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions, minorities, particularly African Americans, are still underrepresented.
According to U.S. News and World Report, African-American and Latino workers represent 29 percent of the general workforce population (up from about 24 percent in 2001), but just 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce and 12 percent of the engineering workforce – all rates that have remained essentially flat.
With such a huge disparity, it is vitally important that students are aware of the great work of minorities in STEM, who have overcome racial barriers.
In honor of Black History Month and National Engineers Week, what better time is there than now to highlight African Americans who have excelled in STEM.
Let’s start with George Washington Carver. Carver was a scientist, inventor, botanist, and chemist who invented over 100 products from the peanut.
Guion Bluford Jr. was the first African American man to travel into space. Bluford made four trips to space, working as a mission specialist on the Challenger and then on the Discovery. In 1997, he was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.
In 1987, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into the astronaut training program. In 1992 Jemison boarded the Endeavour and became the first African American woman in space.
Marie Daly helped us understand how many functions of the body work. Daly received degrees in STEM subjects from Queens College and New York University. Daly completed her doctorate degree at Columbia, becoming the first African American woman in the country to get a PhD in chemistry.
And for a more recent example, let’s take a look at the pivotal work of 21 year old scientist Tiera Guinn.
Guinn hasn’t graduated from college yet, but she is already working as a Rocket Structural Design and Analysis Engineer for the Space Launch System Boeing is building for NASA.
“You have to look forward to your dream and you can’t let anybody get in the way of it,” she said. “No matter how tough it may be, no matter how many tears you might cry, you have to keep pushing. And you have to understand that nothing comes easy. Keeping your eyes on the prize, you can succeed.”
This is just one of the countless stories of African Americans who impacted society at such a young age.
To some, this may seem like a far-fetched goal but to Guinn and others just like her, it starts with believing you can – a quality that all of us have within ourselves.
With that in mind, I encourage you to have the courage to grab hold of your dreams and make them a reality, no matter what barrier lies ahead.
Thanks to courageous individuals, like the ones I named above, the road to accomplish these dreams have been paved, it’s just up to us as to when and how we embark on our own journey towards success – even in STEM.
Shanessa Bryant is a Communications Specialist at the Collaborative for Student Success