- Makayla Windross
Black Women in Stem
As it draws near to the end of Black History Month, we must acknowledge and pay homage to the Black women who have made fundamental contributions to the world of STEM. Dr. Aprille J. Ericsson-Jackson said, “The United States cannot afford to lose more than half of its talent and the fresh perspective that women and minorities can bring to these critical fields. We must work together across the boundaries of skin color and gender" (Ericsson-Jackson, 2001). The dual identity of being both Black and a woman causes compounded disadvantages in the STEM community; simultaneously, Black women also face insufficient representation in STEM careers. Women in Canada make up disproportionately less of the STEM field compared to men. According to Catalyst, “In 2017, women earned approximately one-third (35.8%) of all recipients of STEM postsecondary degrees in Canada” (2017). Likewise, Black people are also greatly underrepresented in the STEM community. According to the National Centre for Institutional Diversity, “More than one-third of Black, Native American, and Latino students start college with an interest in STEM disciplines but only 16% actually earn a degree in a STEM field” (Griffin). Despite the inadequate representation of Black women in STEM, Black women have created an outstanding legacy in the STEM community.
ANNIE EASLY’S CAREER
Annie Easly was a computer scientist who made it a priority throughout her 34-year-long career to use her platform to eliminate the barriers for visible minorities in STEM. At the beginning of her career in 1955, Annie Easly was only 1 of 4 Black People working at NASA. Annie Easly began her career doing calculations by hand as a “human computer”. Inevitably, technology evolved, and “human computers” were replaced with actual computers. In response to developing technology, Annie Easily became a computer programmer. Her main focus was on analyzing energy conversion and alternative power technology. Her research was used for the early hybrid vehicles and Centaur upper-stage rocket. In the 1970s she returned to school at Cleveland State to pursue a degree in mathematics. While in school, Annie used the speaker’s bureau to encourage women and visible minorities to choose STEM careers. Subsequently, her career took on more of an activist position, she became an Equal Employment Counselor, and after her retirement in 1989, she continued to engage in the Speaker’s Bureau and the Business & Professional Women’s Association.
ALETHA MAYBANK’S CAREER
Aletha Maybank is actively creating an impressive medical legacy. Dr. Maybank is a board-certified paediatrician in preventive medicine/public health. She has attended Hopkins University, Temple University School of Medicine, and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Aletha Maybanks is currently the president of the Empire State Medical Association and is in the process of launching a Health Equity Centre with the American Medicine Association. Throughout her career, she founded a new division in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that sought out to create public health equity. She co-founded the “We Are Doc McStuffins” movement to highlight Black Female Physicians in 2012. In summation, Aletha Maybank is a powerful black woman in Medicine, who has made it a priority to use her career to ensure that New York is overall a safer, healthier, and cleaner place for children.
YVONNE CLARK’S CAREER
Yvonne Clark was the first woman to obtain a Mechanical Engineering degree from Howard University. She expressed, “the engineering job market wasn't very receptive to women, particularly women of color" (Clark, 1951). In 1972, she also received a Master’s degree in Engineering Management from Vanderbilt University and was the first Black woman to do so. Yvonne spent the early part of her career creating ammunition and designing factory equipment. In 1956, she became the first female member of the Tennessee State Mechanical Engineering department. Before retiring as a professor, she was chair of the department for 11 years. While working at the University she made it a priority to inspire women to pursue an engineering career. In 1997, she reported that 25% of the students in her department were female. She also did some work for NASA by designing the containers Neil Armstrong used to bring back samples of the moon. Evidently, through her numerous awards, the engineering community expresses their gratitude to Yvonne Clark for her numerous contributions to STEM.
As a Black Women pursuing a STEM career, I urge my fellow Black women to foster their interest in STEM as well. These three stories are just a snippet of the legacy Black women have created in STEM, a legacy we must continue. Admittedly, it is discouraging to enter a field that is not traditionally receptive to people who look like you. However, as visible minorities, we must use our thirst for change as a motivating force to dominate in a field that predominantly does not look like us. Let us be inspired by women like Yvonne Clark and Annie Easley who took on the challenge of being the first or one of very few. Let us appreciate women like Aletha Maybank who are actively creating change and upholding our reputation. Let us be a new, powerful generation of visible minorities in STEM.
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