Meet 7 Black Women Who Broke the Glass Ceiling and the Color Line in STEAM Careers

Traditionally, white males have advanced in careers focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math also referred to as STEM in K-12 education. As of late, there has been a heightened interest in STEM programs in schools. After the inception of the maker movement, where some schools have included Makerspaces, the program has been expanded to include the arts as well. An ‘A’ has been added in STEM and is now called STEAM as educators search for ways to make science fun, engaging, and hands-on while also encouraging students to imagine, explore, tinker, and experiment following the scientific method of research, inquiry, and project-based learning. At the elementary and middle school levels students may learn how to create circuit breakers, lighted greeting cards, and cardboard representations of automobiles, buildings, or even roller coasters. At the high school level, students may learn how to create robots as well as various items using 3-D printers, and learn how to code.

When I was in school, not only did STEAM programs not exist, there also was no culturally-responsive pedagogy that placed Black girls at the center of learning where they could see themselves as scientists, engineers, architects, or mathematicians. It wasn’t until 1987 that Mae C. Jemison had joined the National Aeronautics Space Administration’s (NASA) astronaut corps and in 1992 she orbited the earth for nearly eight days. Once I entered the education workforce in 2000, posters of Jemison wearing her orange, NASA astronaut suit holding her space helmet graced almost every classroom, library, and hallway. She had carved out a lane of her own by becoming the first Black woman to travel into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The image is powerful and is etched forever in my mind. It may also be responsible for sending subliminal messages to the next generation of Black girls who ever wondered if they could become scientists or astronauts.

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