Teaching Tuesday: Unsung Black Engineering Educational Innovators

By Tracy Vasquez, Emily Farkas, and Dusty Sanchez, faculty

Black STEM teacher doing electricity experiment with students

Engineering can seem like another world to students who lack exposure to scientific mentors and inspirational stories. Through the lives of some Black engineering educational innovators, you can inspire your classroom students to aspire to greatness in the STEM fields. This week, try enriching your tribute to Black History Month by spending some time looking at unsung innovators and their accomplishments. Below you will find instructions to three inspiring individuals that you can share with your students.1

Elijah McCoy (1844 - 1929)

Elijah McCoy was the son of an African American who escaped from slavery through the Underground Railroad. His parents saved to send him to school in Scotland where he studied mechanical engineering through an apprenticeship. He later developed a patent that was a major innovation for the train systems. Over his lifetime, he developed 60 patents and is the inspiration for the phrase, “the real McCoy,” meaning his inventions were lauded for their high quality.

Alice Augusta Ball (1892 - 1916)

Alice Augusta Ball became the first African American and first woman to receive a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, where she later served as professor of chemistry. She researched the chemical components of plants, which led to her work developing a treatment for leprosy, known as The Ball Method. This method helped to eliminate the characteristic blisters of the disease. In 2007 she received the Medal of Distinction for her work and was featured in a 2020 movie, “The Ball Method." In her honor, a satellite is named after her in space.

Harold Amos (1918 - 2003)

Harold Amos was the first African American microbiologist and first African American department chair of Harvard Medical School. He began his curiosity into biology and chemistry in the fourth grade after reading about Louis Pasteur's studies on goats. He later went on to graduate top of his class from a segregated school in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and earned his undergraduate degree from Springfield College with highest honors in 1941. After joining the Army, he earned his PhD and became the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from Harvard Medical School.

Harold taught for over 50 years at Harvard. He earned many accolades over his distinguished career, including being the first director of the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program that was later renamed the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program in his honor.

To engage your students further in Black History Month, try expanding discussions to include Black technology leaders. Consider how you can share about the lives of these unsung innovators in your classroom, in a morning classroom meeting, in researching additional contributors in the STEM fields, in classroom discussions and more.

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1Retrieved from Interesting Engineering, Black Inventors - The Complete List of Genius Black American (African American) Inventors, Scientists, and Engineers with Their Revolutionary Inventions That Changed the World and Impacted History - Part Two, in February 2021.

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.