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Black History x STEM: 7 Trailblazers We Admire

Photo Credit (NASA/Paul E. Alers)
Photo Credit (NASA/Paul E. Alers)
Photo Credit (NASA/Paul E. Alers)

There are countless numbers of Black-Americans throughout history who have made great strides in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). This month we wish to highlight 7 that inspire us.

1. Lonnie Johnson (Engineer, Inventor)

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This guy. Man, if there is one person that I should say “Thank You” to for making my childhood in the 90’s a blast, it’s Mr. Johnson who invented the best water gun of all-time! *Kanye Voice* NASA Engineer and toy inventor Lonnie G. Johnson earned his master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee University, and went on to work for the U.S. Air Force and the NASA space program. After tinkering with the invention of a high-powered water gun, Johnson’s Super Soaker became a top-selling item by the early 1990s. He has since been developing the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC), an engine that converts heat directly into electricity.

2. Kimberley Bryant (Electrical Engineer, Entrepreneur)

Kimberly Bryant is an Electrical Engineer who graduated from Vanderbilt University and has worked in the biotechnology field at companies such as Genentech, Novartis Vaccines, Diagnostics, and Merck. In 2011, she founded Black Girls Code, a training course that teaches basic programming concepts to black girls who are underrepresented in technology careers. After founding Black Girls Code, Bryant has been listed as one of the 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology by Business Insider in 2013.

3. Jerry Lawson (Computer Engineer)

jerry+lawson Video game STEM Media

Born in 1940, Jerry Lawson pioneered home video gaming in the 1970s by helping create the Fairchild Channel F, the first home video game system with interchangeable games. A New York native, Lawson is one of the few African-American engineers who worked in computing at the dawn of the video game era. Though basic by today’s standards, Lawson’s work allowed people to play a variety of games in their homes, and paved the way for systems such as the Atari 2600, Nintendo, Xbox and PlayStation. In reference to his minority status, he was once quoted as saying, “I’m one of the guys, if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll turn around and do it.”

4. Ursula Burns (Engineer, Executive)

Ursula M. Burns is currently the Chairman and CEO of the Xerox corporation. As such, she is the first black woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company. During her tenure, she has helped the company transform from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes. In 2014, Forbes rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world. She obtained her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering in 1980 and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University a year later.

5. Charles Bolden (Astronaut, Marine General)

Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. is the current, and first black Administrator of National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), a retired United States Marine Corps Major General, and former NASA astronaut. A 1968 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he became a Marine Aviator and test pilot. After his service as an astronaut, he became Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. On May 23, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Bolden as NASA Administrator and Lori Garver as Deputy NASA Administrator. Bolden was confirmed by the Senate on July 15, 2009.[3] He is the first African American to head the agency on a permanent basis.

6. Marie Daly (Biochemist)

Marie Daly STEM Media

Marie Maynard Daly was an American biochemist. She was the first Black American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry; awarded by Columbia University in 1947. Daly overcame dual hurdles of racial and gender bias to pursue chemistry. She ultimately went on to build a career in research and teaching at such prestigious academic institutions as the Rockefeller Institute, Columbia University, and Yeshiva University.

7. George Washington Carver (Botanist, Chemist, Inventor)

It seems that no list of African-Americans who made tremendous impact in the STEM fields would be complete without this scientific genius. Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver was one of many children born to Mary and Giles, an enslaved couple owned by Moses Carver. He was born during the Civil War years, most likely in 1864. A week after his birth, George was kidnapped along with his sister and mother from the Carver farm by raiders from the neighboring state of Arkansas. The three were sold in Kentucky, and among them only the infant George was located by an agent of Moses Carver and returned to Missouri.

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