HOW CAN WE HELP YOU? Call 1-800-TRY-CHOP
In This Section
Video: Episode 2: Mae Carol Jemison
Presented by: Meghan Grubb, MA, MS
Welcome to Episode Two of the Diverse Scientist Highlights Series! If you have not yet watched our Introductory Episode for this series, please do so before watching this episode. Our Introductory Episode defines diversity and the importance of having a diverse work force. It also explains why we created the Diverse Scientist Highlights series. Be sure to check it out before continuing!
For this episode, we are highlighting Mae Carol Jemison, an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut!
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. At the age of 3, she moved to Chicago with her two older siblings, mother, and father. Her father worked as a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization while her mother spent most of her professional career as a math and English teacher. Both her parents encouraged Mae’s interest in science at a young age. Others met Mae’s passion with resistance. In kindergarten, she told her teacher that she wanted to be a scientist when she grew up, but her teacher assumed she meant a nurse. In the 1960s, female scientists were still rare. Mae noticed this gender discrepancy during the Apollo missions. She later recalled, “everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being really really irritated that there were no women astronauts.” At the age of 16, Jemison started college at Stanford University where she earned her bachelor’s of science degree in Chemical Engineering and a bachelor’s of art degree in African and Afro-American Studies. Conflicted between going to medical school or pursuing a career as a professional dancer after graduation, Mae ultimately picked med school and transitioned to Cornell Medical School. During her time at medical school, she traveled to Kenya, Thailand, and Cuba to help these countries citizens with medical care. After graduating with her medical degree in 1981, Mae interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and then worked as a general practitioner for Ross-Loos Medical Group.
There is no doubt that Mae’s resume is impressive, but you might be asking yourself why are we highlighting her in our diverse scientist highlights series.
We are highlighting Mae Carol Jemison because she was the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
When Mae returned to the United States after serving in the Peace Corps, she took graduate level engineering courses. Inspired by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Guion (Guyen) Bluford, the first African American man in space, Mae applied to NASA’s astronaut training program and was chosen out of 2,000 applicants to be one of the fifteen people in the NASA Astronaut Group 12. Mae’s dream of being an astronaut came true on September 12, 1992 when she flew her first and only space mission for 8 days. While in space, she conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself.
It is necessary to note that Mae’s journey to becoming an astronaut was not easy. She faced much discrimination due to her gender and race along the way. As mentioned earlier, due to her gender, her kindergarten teacher assumed Mae wanted to be a nurse, not a scientist. Mae also had to overcome not only the limited number of female astronauts, but also that no other black woman was an astronaut before her. It was up to her to pave the way. In college, she experienced discrimination for her skin color. There were very few African-American students in her classes and she claimed her youthful arrogance may have helped her get through college. She even asserted that some arrogance is necessary for women and minorities to be successful in a white male dominated society.
After resigning from NASA in March 1993, Mae founded The Jemison Group Inc., a consulting firm which considers the sociocultural impact of technological advancements and design. As an avid Star Trek fan, Mae appeared as Lieutenant Palmer in the Second Chances episode of Star Trek, which also made her the first real-life astronaut to appear in the show.
In addition, Mae founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which provides a science camp for students aged 12 to 16. In 1999, she founded BioSentient Corp, which aims to develop mobile monitoring for the INS or involuntary nervous system, research that she conducted while in space. From 1999 to 2005, she was appointed an Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University where she attended medical school. In 2006, Mae participated in African American Lives, a PBS television miniseries that traces the family history of eight famous African Americas using historical research and genetic techniques.
Mae Carol Jemison has and continues to accomplish incredible feats. Her foundations and participation in various organizations all work towards a common goal of enhancing the scientific field for all individuals. As an active public speaker, Mae promotes science and technology while speaking out about the gap in the quality of health-care between the United States and the Third World. Mae is truly a trailblazer! We are excited to feature her as our second diverse scientist in this series! To learn about another incredible diverse scientist, check out episode three. Thank you.