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Spotlight on Black Women in STEM

As Black History Month concludes, we wanted to reflect on all of the amazing women we spotlighted on our Instagram this month and continue to be inspired by every single day.

Aprille Ericsson-Jackson

Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson is the first African American woman to earn a PhD from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She believes in having a well-rounded life and that you are more likely to succeed when you are well rounded since a variety of activities helps a person grow and mature in different ways. She played on her high school’s basketball team, was a clarinet player in the high school band, a member of the science club, and a member of the honors club. She earned her B.S in Aeronautical engineering at MIT and her masters in mechanical engineering at Howard University.

After earning her doctorate, Dr. Ericsson-Jackson accepted an Aerospace Engineer position at the NASA Goddard Flight Center in Maryland. It was important to Dr. Ericsson-Jackson that her work has a positive effect on the Earth and on our quality of life. For example, her work on the Tropical Rain Measuring Mission helped observe the effects of El Niño and La Niña, in order to correlate their activity with crop productivity.

Today she still works for NASA, and she advocates for education for young girls–especially those of color, girls who have disabilities, girls living in poverty, and girls who are learning English as a new language. In between her work at NASA, she travels the country as a motivational speaker, she still continues to play basketball, and served as an adjunct professor, teaching courses in mechanical engineering and mathematics. She also teaches Aerospace theory to students at HU Public Charter Middle School of Math & Science.

“I feel obligated to help spur the interest of minorities and [women] in the math, science and engineering disciplines; without diversity in all fields, the United States will not remain technically competitive.”

Patricia Bath

Patricia Bath is the first African American woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African American woman doctor to patent a medical invention. Additionally, Bath was the first African American woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. Her affection for science extends back to when she was a teenager and won a scholarship from the National Science Foundation. Bath earned her B.A. in Chemistry from Manhattan’s Hunter College and then attended Howard University College of Medicine.

After her graduation, she returned to New York to get specific training in ophthalmology and cornea transplants. Through her personal interest and further studies she developed a new field of study called “community ophthalmology”, which is based on her observation that blindness is more common among under-served populations. This motivated her to support health initiatives aimed at lowering occurrences of blindness within these communities.

Bath’s passion and dedication to treating and preventing blindness led to her inventing the Cataract Laserphaco Probe, which she patented. The probe’s purpose was to utilize a laser to quickly and painlessly remove cataracts from patient's eyes. Her invention impacts the entire world today because it is used globally to treat patients with blindness. In addition to impacting the world with her useful invention, she founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (AIPB). The organization continues to support medical professionals and the treatment of eye problems around the globe today.

“Do not allow your mind to be imprisoned by majority thinking. Remember that the limits of science are not the limits of imagination.”

Annie J. Easley

Computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist Annie J. Easley worked on the front line of many influential projects in space research in the Computer Services Division of NASA, and was one of the first African Americans there.

She entered Xavier University in 1951 and completed two years of study in Pharmacology before dropping out to get married. Despite not having a B.A., she began working as a substitute teacher and helped members of her community prepare for literacy tests required for voter registration. In 1955, Easley read an article about twin sisters who worked as “human computers” at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. The article noted that individuals with strong mathematics skills were needed. Easley immediately applied and two weeks later began her 34 year-long career with NASA as a computer scientist and mathematician.

She helped with the launch of John Glenn into orbit in 1962, ran simulations for the Plum Brook Reactor Facility, worked on nuclear-powered rocket systems including the Centaur high-energy booster rocket, and many other energy and power projects. The impacts of her work include energy assignments determining the life use of batteries (in vehicles), computer applications used in the improvement of energy conversion systems, and work with the Centaur project laying foundations for future space shuttle and satellite launches. She eventually returned to school in the 1970s to complete a mathematics degree, while working full time.

Easley worked with local tutoring programs encouraging younger students to explore their interests in the STEM field. She also worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor, addressing race, gender, and age discrimination complaints from NASA employees.

Easley’s energy and positive attitude had a tremendous impact and her legacy continues to inspire countless students to make an impact in the STEM field.

“You can be anything you want to. It doesn't matter what you look like, what your size is, what your color is. You can be anything you want to, but you do have to work at it.”

Aisha Bowe

Aisha Bowe is a Bahamian-American aerospace engineer. Although her high school guidance counselor had recommended her to become a cosmetologist, Bowe pursued engineering after acing mathematics at her local community college. She transferred into engineering programs at the University of Michigan. After completing her undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering in 2008, she went on to obtain a master's degree in space systems engineering in 2009.

Bowe worked in the Ames Research Center, in the Flight Trajectory Dynamics and Controls Branch of the Aviation Systems Division. In 2009, she joined the AST Flight and Fluid Mechanics group, assisting in the development and of algorithms in support of Air Traffic Managemen. She received the National Society of Black Engineers award for Outstanding Technical Contribution for her paper "Evaluation of a Fuel Efficient Aircraft Maneuver for Conflict Resolution" in 2012. As a Bahamian American, Bowe wants "to see more Bahamians in the science and technology field.”

At NASA, she worked as a mission engineer while mentoring students in her role as liaison to the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program.

Today, Bowe is the co-founder and CEO of STEMBoard, a Certified Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business that creates software solutions for government and private-sector clients. The organization also runs educational workshops to expose historically underrepresented youth to technology concepts such as coding and engineering.

Ashanti Johnson

Ashanti Johnson is the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in oceanography from Texas A&M University. Ashanti Johnson has worked to amplify the voices of historically underrepresented communities in STEM fields through programs such as Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science, the Classroom and Community Engagement and Mentoring Program, and the new MS PHD’S-GEO Research Experience for Undergraduates Professional Development Program.

As an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Texas at Arlington, Johnson uses various biogeochemical indicators to interpret past events that have impacted the marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments in the Arctic and the coastal regions of Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Her areas of research specialization also include aquatic radiogeochemistry, professional development of students, and science and engineering diversity-focused initiatives. Johnson is also the chief of science and research at Black Girls Dive, an organization that inspires young girls and women to explore aquatic-based recreation activities and career opportunities, and the CEO and superintendent of Cirrus Academy Charter School, which employs an integrated, hands-on curriculum based on STEAM principles for kindergarten through 12th grade. Currently, Johnson is a professional speaker on topics of diversity and inclusion in higher education, Youth STEM advocacy, and workplace equity.

Aletha Maybank

Aletha Maybank was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins University, a Medical Degree from Temple University School of Medicine, and a Master of Public Health from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Her areas of expertise include preventive medicine, food and fitness, maternal and child health, cancer, HIV/AIDS, community health, and health inequities. Dr. Maybank is a founding board member of the Artemis Medical Society, an international mentoring, networking, and advocacy organization of over 2,500 Black female physicians established in June 2012.

Aletha Maybank co-created “We Are Doc McStuffins,” a movement to spotlight the real-life African American female doctors who inspired the Disney Junior animated character of Doc McStuffins.

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