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Jemison: More women and minorities needed in the sciences

By Katy Murphy
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 at 2:05 pm in achievement gap, Algebra/Math, initiatives, science, students, teachers, technology.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, a physician and former astronaut, was the first African-American woman to travel in space. She is in town this week for a conference on science education, designed to urge industry leaders to do their part to bring more women and minorities into the science and technology fields, and I asked if she would write a piece for us. Here it is. -Katy

I travel a lot.

In my travels, I get to meet lots of people from all walks of life. Many of them ask me when I first got interested in science.

The truth is, I can’t remember when I wasn’t.

Like most kids, I was born curious about the world. As children, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s what — like the fuzz between the couch cushions, asking our parents why the sky is blue and being both fascinated and frightened by thunder and lightning.

Growing up and deciding to become an astronaut wasn’t hard. But finding people who looked like me – female and African-American as images to assure and guide me – that was difficult.

Today, much has changed yet much remains the same. Yes, we’ve elected our first African-American president, something of which we should all be proud, but as a country we haven’t done a very good job of bringing women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans into Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) fields … and today, we need them more than ever.

While these groups make up roughly two-thirds of our nation’s workforce, they represent only one-quarter of the STEM workforce. That has to change. Why?

Because shifting demographics demand it. New U.S. Census projections say the minority will become the majority population by 2042 – much earlier than previously thought. Already in some communities, minorities make up the majority of the under-20 population. How can the U.S. continue to lead the world in innovation, and technology if we leave the vast majority of our talent untapped and underdeveloped?

Plus, in a new survey commissioned by Bayer Corporation, America’s Fortune 1000 STEM companies say that bringing more of these folks into the STEM workforce is key
to keeping their companies, their industries and the country competitive in the years to come.

Translation: effective, inclusive STEM education is a national imperative.

Besides, more than just adding bodies, diversity has huge benefits. The executives say it means maximizing human potential so companies can innovate, be more competitive in the global marketplace and invent new technologies that keep our world healthier, safer and more sustainable.

I’m excited to be traveling to San Francisco this week to host a STEM Education Diversity Forum that Bayer is sponsoring in response to the CEO survey, in which many said they believe they and their companies have a responsibility to support STEM education programs aimed at girls and minorities.

The purpose of the forum is to introduce executives and educators from Silicon Valley and Bay area STEM companies to K-12 best practice STEM education programs that are helping students, particularly girls and minorities, to achieve and succeed in these important subjects.

Along with Bayer, I’ll be acting as a matchmaker, connecting some of the country’s largest STEM companies with programs, some of which are based right in the Bay area, like the family math program, EQUALS, and the FOSS and GEMS science curricula developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science; the Chabot Space & Science Center’s Techbridge program; and Biotech Partners, a high school-to-career program created by the City of Berkeley and Bayer HealthCare some 15 years ago.

These and other programs being presented need industry’s support to scale up and reach more students, both majority and minority and male and female.

California is the most diverse state in the union. There’s a great opportunity to leverage this diversity to create a world-class STEM workforce that taps the potential of all our citizens.

Diversity made this country great and I daresay, in today’s world, it is one of the things that will keep it so.

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  • John

    What! No comments from the peanut gallery about this Afro American female role model! Katy should give Hodge her phone number. She could be advised to take rap lessons, get arrested and re-submit her role model application when she’s more qualified to ‘assume the position,’ after having done so multiple times. She’s probably too young to achieve the credible 32 arrest status achieved by Rapper T.I. Her biggest problem is that she’s too much into “acting white!”

    No self disrespecting kid from the hood is gonna look up to this Afro American female Astronaut. She’d get a lot more attention in Orinda, which as I understand it already has one high school graduate who has spent time in orbit. Hey, I think she might even be female! Unfortunately she (or maybe a he?) is non-black.

    Dr. Jamison, we need you in the other OUSD on the other side of the Caldecott tunnel! Don’t be shy about slipping into and showing up in your space suit! Your many legitimate accomplishments will be greatly appreciated and admired by Orinda’s K-12 school kids.

    You may want to wear your space helmet in Oakland. It looks like an effective piece of protective head gear!

  • http://www.jeanquan.org Jean Quan

    Thousands of kids from the “hood” come to the Chabot Science Center every year and when the Mayor sponsored a free day for Oakland residents the lines went out the door. Your stereotypes of Oakland and our kids are sad and outrageous. Mae Jemison spoke to a full house of young admirers when we launched the nationally recognized Techbridge program for girls in Science many years ago.

  • maat

    Wow!
    Plenty AA kids look up to Jamieson. My daughter is one and a host of children that have teachers around them willing to teach them about greatness and successful AA.
    And believe it or not great achievements come in all shapes sizes and colors.
    Because Jemison has never been arrested does that make her “acting white”??? Humm are we saying white folk don’t get arrested or just not as much as black folk or disproportinate numbers of black folks are arrested compared to white folks or what are ya saying?

    Jemison might not like that association – her success is defined as “acting white”. Her generation got told BE Black and Proud remember!She was probably taught she had no limits – just be successful. So kids of all backgrounds should meet her especially girls or is that not okay because it might suggest there needs to be equity for wommin??

    Whatever the case…Schools have assemblies all the time. Is anyone setting up a visit for her to visit schools??

    btw
    I think she visited Cole school once or others from NASA and it gave birth to a space and science charter school in West Oakland three years ago.

    Can you imagine? Yes, as you say ghetto kids, kids from the hood…Trust me we have very high expectations. Try looking through our lense ocassionally.

  • Nextset

    Gee I wonder who’d be considered a more desirable school speaker by OUSD – Mae Jemison or some Rapper??

    Oakland has plenty of black physicians, lawyers, judges, CPA’s and so on. I really don’t hear about any program at OUSD to get them into the schools to explain why they got where they are and others didn’t.

    Students who actually have potential need direction and guidance to use it. The public schools should be looking for them and giving them the push or the kick needed to get them going.

    And we don’t need any more black criminals being allowed into the schools as role models – in person or on posters.

    And the “acting white” thing should be addressed head on. Those who act ghetto should be held in contempt and removed from normal schools so they don’t infect others. The schools should be very clear about what they want in the students and what they don’t want, and where the non-performers will be sent.

  • John

    Yes Jean, it’s sad to “stereotype” the aspirations of Oakland kids by stereotyping their taste and role model preference by bringing in a foul mouth criminal rapper like T.I Jamieson. But then I would hardly expect you to criticize a fellow board member, especially given your reported Mayoral ambitions. Or perhaps you don’t have a problem with the likes of T.P. (Sp?) showing up at the school door for court ordered “community service” points after being escorted through police doors for an impressive accumulation of felony points?

    Hey Jean, had T.I. not made it in show biz perhaps this macho mucho felon rapper would have been a keeper for Mayor Dellum’s ‘city jobs for felons’ effort! Or T.I. could have served as a ‘creative linguist’ consultant’ for OUSD’s Ebonics curriculum writers had national laughter and outrage not squashed the 1996 Ebonics resolution affirmed by you and your then Oakland School Board colleagues, so sad.

    Mae Jamieson did speak to a full house of admiring girls “many years ago” in support of the GIRLS ONLY Tech Bridge program, launched by Chabot Space and Science Center with a grant independent of OUSD. I suspect it had a positive role modeling impact on Oakland girls, as evidenced by the absence of foul mouth Oakland female rappers! If it worked for girls, maybe it’ll also work for boys? Boy oh boy!

    By the way Jean did that bill for the 2005 Dragon Skies Oakland kid event you hosted at Chabot Space and Science Center ever get paid? I haven’t talked to my Chabot contacts in awhile.

    Moat take note: The insult to Afro American kids doesn’t come from me, it comes from people like Hodge who want to motivate them with felon modeles of failure and “self destructions” who celebrate themselves with lyrics promoting a sexist (NOW take note!), drug dealing, murder glorifying sub culture that few if any locals are openly willing to criticize. I remember the Tribune’s Peggy Stinette complementing the driving skill of Oakland ‘side show’ participants.

    The misguided accolade, how terribly typical Oakland it has become!

    You correctly observe that, “…a host of children have teachers around them willing to teach them about greatness and successful AA. And…great achievements come in all shapes sizes and colors.” So why does Hodge dredge the swamp for the “successes” of Rapper T.I.? It’s probably because he “tried looking through your (‘ghetto kids’) lense” and this is what he saw.

    I agree with you that Jamison would not like the association of her success being defined as “acting white.” As an OUSD teacher I periodically became aware of this association made by Afro American or Hispanic students about a hard working academically successful peer, a prerequisite to Ms. Jamieson’s brand of success.

    But then success comes in different forms that include Al Capone and Adolf Hitler. Anyway, it’s nice that you and your daughter prefer the Jamieson brand to that of T.I., but then I have no personal confirmation of this, do I.

    Cheers ya all.

  • Nextset

    And I add that is OUSD continued to teach felons as role models, they need to have a class on 3 strike law, criminal sentencing and how to plea bargain. That way the the black males will get a clue of how the crimes they like to commit are treated at sentencing time. You can steal $500k with a fraction of the prison exposure you get for crimes yielding $200 – and if that’s your thing, you should do it with eyes open.

    No I’m not serious… but this makes more sense that what OUSD is going for the underclass black males. A hallmark of the ghetto rappers is that they commit their crimes armed with a handgun. How many OUSD kids know exactly how the gun enhancements work in criminal sentencing? Guess what – the enhancement can be greater than the sentence for the underlying crime. Just having a concealed handgun on you during a robbery (shoplift?) and never displaying it jacks up the prison time. I could go on… even the “experienced” black criminals are clueless as to criminal law and prison exposure. That is if the victims and passerbys don’t summarily kill you because you were an armed violent felon in the act. Maybe the Penal Code should be taught in class along with the visits from felon rappers.

    Or maybe not.

    Because they kids we are speaking of here aren’t going to make it anyway. The “school” is really just an employment scheme for the “teachers” and nothing is really being taught.

    I wish OUSD could get speakers like Jamison constantly. I don’t see OUSD even wanting them.