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
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.