Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Diversity in Science Carnival #13: Black History Month--Celebrating Our Future

The Diversity in Science Carnival.
Celebrating Black Scientists Past, Present, and Future

Welcome to the 13th DiS Carnival! This is the third carnival celebrated during Black History Month (the first two, DiS #7 and #1 are here).

In 1976, under President Gerald Ford, February also became known as Black History Month. For 50 years prior, "Negro History" was commemorated during the second week of the second month of each year. Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), known as the Father of Black History, was dedicated to studying and disseminating information about black life, history and culture. Many celebrate Black History, but the struggle to bring more scientists into the fold of popular black history continues. Following in this tradition, I would like to celebrate and engage Black scientists as community role models, leaders, and citizens.

Projecting Our Image

How does a child picture a scientist? (Photo credit:Mad4Science)

Thankfully, more and more people are challenging us to combat the stereotypical images of scientists (this Mad4Science has some additional "before and after" drawings from children along the lines of the images above). Also please look at Mariette DiChristina's article on the Scientific American website (and please check out the featured profile of Eunice Nuekie Cofie, President and Chief Cosmetic Chemist of Nuekie, Inc., who also shared this article with me). I love these efforts, but I still feel there aren't enough Black faces being put forth as direct challenges to the predominate stereotypes--we need more than glamorous head shots--we want scientists in action! So please, submit your photos and your stories here and here!

Thinking back...
James H. Stith (left) showing a cadet how to use equipment
during a physics class. This photo was taken at the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point, NY.
(Photo Credit: AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives

In developing and reading material for this carnival, I got to thinking that as a minority scientist, I've been lucky to have many role models. Here are the names of minority scientists that have influenced, assisted, and impressed me:
Think back and reach out to scientists that have guided and influenced you!

Andrea Stith with Joe Francisco, a past
president of the American Chemical Society.
Knowing Your History

I'm not sure if it's just me, but when I think of history, I think of books--heavy, thick, and dusty ones at that. Recently, I was reminded upon meeting Dr. Joseph Francisco that you can learn valuable lessons from someone else's personal just need to ask!

There are some online resources, that give the stories of well-regarded scientists. The National Academy of Science has its African American History Program which began over 25 years ago as a staff initiative. It is now expanded to include an online database of African American citizens of the United States who have made significant contributions in science, engineering, or medicine. Here are some biographies from and here is one for the kids!

But as I found out in my interview featured on PhDforLife with Dr. Gregory Good, a science historian at the Center for the History of Physics, recording the lives and accomplishments of scientists is crucial because it "gives a face to science." You don't have to be a historian to do this--he recommends ways that YOU can get involved in making sure papers and photos are archived, departmental records saved and oral histories recorded. Also see this post if you think you may want to become a historian of science!

Celebrating Excellence

Thanks to everyone who submitted links to excellent black scientists. Specifically, Jennifer Michalowski at Howard Hughes Medical Institute shared the web pages for HHMI Early Career Scientists Russell A. DeBose-Boyd and Tirin Moore, and HHMI Investigator Erich D. Jarvis. I'd also like to share the profiles of HHMI Professors Winston A. Anderson and Isiah M. Warner. Here also is a link to the 2011 class of HHMI Gilliam Fellows.

HHMI affiliated scentists Andreson, Moore, Jarvis, DeBose-Boyd, and Warner. Photo credit: Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology also submitted this roundup of some of the interviews ASBMB Today has done with its Black members (like Namandje Bumpus, Marion Sewer, and Heather Pinkett). In recognition of Black History Month DNLee pays tribute to five urban ecologists that we all should know. Also, check out the HistoryMakers website--their archive is growing by the day!

In his post Always Bet on Black bashir points out that Blacks have achieved many notable "firsts". And indeed there are many excellent Black scientists! But we can't grow complacent now that we've named our first Black U.S. President. We must focus on an achievement that still eludes us-- that of the first Black scientist to win a Nobel prize in physics, chemistry, or medicine. Thanks to Alberto Roca for pointing out that:
An African American from Detroit, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche (political scientist) was the first black man to receive the distinguished Peace Prize (1950) for his work as a United Nations mediator, and Sir William Arthur Lewis, received the 1979 Economics Prize.
I also agree with Alberto that another worthy milestone would be a Black president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pursuing Excellence and Celebrating Our Passion

Thanks to everyone who submitted links that depict the passion that many African Americans have for science and strive to share. Here is one about Daniell Washington, a marine biologist who is also the CEO of her own foundation dedicated to inspiring young people and educating them about the importance of the ecosystem protecting the marine environment.

Equally passionate about the environment is Dr. Gillian Bowser. A native of Brooklyn, she is now a research scientist in Colorado, leading many efforts to involve students in ecology. She knows that nature itself thrives on diversity and so does science! Here is the story from Terrasig of Jason Dorsette, a scholar, leader, and inspiration!

Also thanks to DNLee for making me aware of a guest post to her blog The Urban Scientist by her good friend and Sister in Science Charlotte Clark, a geologist. Charlotte describes her journey to becoming a scientist. In Brilliant & Beautiful: Black Female Chemists Promote Science Careers Among Women of Color we learn of two entrepreneurial women who made sure they had a way to give back.

Many thanks to the University of Washington chapter of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) for submitting two posts celebrating Black History month. The first provides an excellent discussions of African Americans in the US, at UW, in higher education, and in STEM. The second is a guest post called "The Scientist of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" by Keon Vereen, an aerospace engineering doctoral student. In it he talks about the influences that have enabled his science journey and relates what he believes the future holds.

Celebrating our Future

We are on a Quest for Excellence. This was the theme of the Symposium on Supporting Underrepresented Minority Males in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics held on February 28th at the NASA headquarters. In her speech Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) remarked that while every child won’t go to the moon, we need to make sure that each and every one believes they can. Better yet, I believe that if we teach them their History, they will KNOW they can.

Here is a short list of organizations, resources and programs (please comment to add to this list!) that can help make this dream possible:


March is Women's History Month and DiS Carnival #14 will explore the role of women in the enterprise of STEM. It will be hosted at Double X Science - bring science to the woman in you. Emily WIllingham, co-founder of the blog community will serve as editor.

1 comment:

  1. This has been a wonderful education article. Enjoyed reading it.