Teaching Tuesday: Black STEM Educational Innovators

By Tracy Vasquez, Emily Farkas and Marjaneh Gilpatrick, faculty

Black STEM educator teaching kids science

In recent years, there has been an increased demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals. Our society relies on such subjects to both improve our national innovation and influence education to match new and reimagined professions. In addition, many leaders in innovation are frequently influenced by dedicated teachers who have impacted them socially, emotionally and academically. Let us take a closer look at the stories of a few of our scientific educational innovators from underserved populations.

George Washington Carver (1864 - 1943)

George Washington Carver served as an advisor on agricultural matters with President Franklin Roosevelt. He also was awarded membership into the British Royal Society of Art in 1916. While you may be familiar with the legacy of George Washington Carver having invented numerous uses for peanuts, you may not know he was a teacher and an advocate for farmers. He was so dedicated to teaching farmers about efficient ways of farming that he designed a mobile classroom which was drawn by a horse. He was able to demonstrate his techniques firsthand to farmers who were predominately share-croppers and former slaves.

Katherine Johnson (1918 - 2020)

You may be familiar with Katherine Johnson from the movie based on a group of Black women scientists, Hidden Figures. Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who, upon graduating with her undergraduate degree in mathematics became a schoolteacher in Virginia. She later took on a role at NASA, making an impact with her mathematical expertise on many NASA research projects, ranging from planning spaceflights for the first American in space to preparing a mission to Mars. President Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and she received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.

Marie Maynard Daly (1921- 2003)

Marie Maynard Daly emerged as the first Black American woman to receive a PhD in Chemistry and subsequently worked as a professor and American biochemist. She conducted research that led to the discovery of the harmful effects of high cholesterol on arteries and heart disease. In addition, she contributed ground-breaking research on the harmful effects of sugar on arteries and cigarette smoking on lung tissues, for which she received grants from the American Cancer Society. She earned recognition as one of the top 50 women STEM scientists from the National Technical Association in 1999. Her lasting impact promoted Black education through scholarships, in honor of her father. These scholarships were awarded to African American students.

As we know, teachers are key influencers who help guide students as they pursue their future professions. As we consider the importance of scientific discoveries and their impact on our everyday lives, we should take a moment to appreciate these heroes and others who have already made a lasting impact. Furthermore, learning about these individuals’ lives and careers inspire us as educational innovators as we prepare the next generation of scientists and teachers to lead our communities.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.