Friday, November 2, 2012

Trailblazing Black Women Scientists: Carol Mae Jemison in L.A.!

Dr. Carol Mae Jemison

Devin Waller
My 4 year-old daughter wants to be an astronaut, but what images in the mainstream media does she see representing astrounauts and space explorers? Buzz Lightyear and the predominantly white male trailblazers who guided the Mars Curiosity Rover.  On Sunday, November 4th, trailblazer and inspiration Dr. Carol Mae Jemison, the first black woman astronaut, will be in Los Angeles at the California Science Center and the California African American Museum (CAAM) to “give personal accounts of traveling on the Endeavour and life inspirations that led to her becoming a trailblazer.” Dr. Jemison has a B.A. in chemical engineering and an M.D. from Cornell University. In her autobiography Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life, Jemison reflected on how, after professing interest in being a scientist to one of her teachers, she was told to set her sights on being a nurse instead. As a sixteen year-old undergraduate at Stanford University, she was practically shunned by her physical science instructors.

Although her experiences occurred during the sixties and seventies, the dominant view of who is a proper scientist has not changed. Planetary geologist Devin Waller echoed Jemison’s experience recently when she spoke to Women’s Leadership Project students at Gardena and Washington Prep High Schools. Ms. Waller, who was just appointed Project Manager over Science Research and Artifacts at the California Science Center (where the Endeavour is now housed), related how she was treated like an oddball who clearly didn’t belong in upper division science courses by her predominantly white male classmates in the UCLA Physics department. Devin was the only African American woman at UCLA to receive a bachelor’s in Astrophysics in 2005. During her talk with WLP, she highlighted her early interest in science and her mother educator Linda Watts' efforts to expose her to science exploration despite there being no family members or role models who’d pursued science in her immediate community. She also reflected on her persistence at getting into the Geolophysics program at Arizona State University (again as the only black woman in her department), despite not having a background in geology.  During her tenure at ASU Devin worked on the predecessor to Curiosity and did well-received research on dust devils.

Dr. Jemison will be at CAAM at 2 pm.