Dr Mae Jeimison - Influential Black Leaders
Mae Carol Jemison (born October 17, 1956) is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Jemison joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1987 and was selected to serve for the STS-47 mission, during which she orbited the Earth for nearly eight days on September 12–20, 1992.
Born in Alabama and raised in Chicago, Jemison graduated from Stanford University with degrees in chemical engineering as well as African and African-American studies. She then earned her medical degree from Cornell University. Jemison was a doctor for the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1983 until 1985 and worked as a general practitioner. In pursuit of becoming an astronaut, she applied to NASA .
Jemison left NASA in 1993 and founded a technology research company. She later formed a non-profit educational foundation and through the foundation is the principal of the 100 Year Starship project funded by DARPA. Jemison also wrote several books for children and appeared on television several times, including in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She holds several honorary doctorates and has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.
Early life and education
Mae Carol Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, on October 17, 1956, the youngest of three children of Charlie Jemison and Dorothy Jemison (née Green). Her father was a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization, and her mother worked most of her career as an elementary school teacher of English and math at the Ludwig van Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. The family first lived in Woodlawn and later the Morgan Park neighborhoods. Jemison knew from a young age that she wanted to study science and someday go into space. The television show Star Trek and, in particular, African-American actress Nichelle Nichols' portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura further stoked her interest in space.
Jemison enjoyed studying nature and human physiology, using her observations to learn more about science. Although her mother encouraged her curiosity and both her parents were supportive of her interest in science, she did not always see the same support from her teachers. When Jemison told a kindergarten teacher she wanted to be a scientist when she grew up, the teacher assumed she meant she wanted to be a nurse. Seeing a lack of female astronauts during the Apollo missions also frustrated Jemison. She later recalled, "everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being really really irritated that there were no women astronauts."
Jemison began studying ballet at the age of 8 or 9 and entered high school at 12 years old, where she joined the cheerleading team and the Modern Dance Club. Jemison had a great love for dance from a young age. She learned several styles of dance, including African and Japanese, as well as ballet, jazz, and modern dance. As a child, Jemison had aspirations of becoming a professional dancer. At the age of 14, she auditioned for the leading role of Maria in West Side Story. She did not get the leading role but was selected as a background dancer.
After graduating from Chicago's Morgan Park High School in 1973, Jemison entered Stanford University at the age of 16 Although she was young to be leaving home for college, Jemison later said it did not faze her because she was "naive and stubborn enough". There were very few other African-American students in Jemison's classes and she continued to experience discrimination from her teachers.In an interview with The Des Moines Register in 2008, Jemison said that it was difficult to go to Stanford at 16 but that her youthful arrogance may have helped her; she asserted that some arrogance is necessary for women and minorities to be successful in a white male dominated society.
At Stanford, Jemison served as head of the Black Students Union. She also choreographed a musical and dance production called Out of the Shadows. During her senior year in college, she struggled with the choice between going to medical school or pursuing a career as a professional dancer after graduation; she graduated from Stanford in 1977, receiving a B.S. degree in chemical engineering. and B.A. degree in African and African-American studies. While at Stanford, she also pursued studies related to her childhood interest in space and first considered applying to NASA.
Jemison attended Cornell Medical School and during her training, traveled to Cuba, to conduct a study funded by American Medical Student Association and to Thailand, where she worked at a Cambodian refugee camp. She also worked for Flying Doctors stationed in East Africa. During her years at Cornell, Jemison continued to study dance by enrolling in classes at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. After graduating with an M.D. degree in 1981, she interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in 1982, and worked as a general practitioner for Ross–Loos Medical Group.
Jemison joined the staff of the Peace Corps in 1983 and served as a medical officer until 1985. She was responsible for the health of Peace Corps volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone.Jemison supervised the Peace Corps' pharmacy, laboratory, medical staff as well as providing medical care, writing self-care manuals, and developing and implementing guidelines for health and safety issues. She also worked with the Centers for Disease Control helping with research for various vaccines.
Upon returning to the United States after serving in the Peace Corps, Jemison settled in Los Angeles, California. In Los Angeles, she entered into private practice and took graduate level engineering courses. The flights of Sally Ride and Guion Bluford in 1983 inspired Jemison to apply to the astronaut program. Jemison first applied to NASA's astronaut training program in October 1985, but NASA postponed selection of new candidates after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Jemison reapplied in 1987 and was chosen out of roughly 2,000 applicants to be one of the fifteen people in the NASA Astronaut Group 12, the first group selected following the destruction of Challenger. The Associated Press covered her as the "first black woman astronaut" in 1987. CBS featured Jemison as one of the country's "most eligible singles" on Best Catches, a television special hosted by Phylicia Rashad and Robb Weller in 1989.
Jemison's work with NASA before her shuttle launch included launch support activities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL). On September 28, 1989, She was selected to join the STS-47 crew as Mission Specialist 4 and was also designated Science Mission Specialist, a new astronaut role being tested by NASA to focus on scientific experiments.
Jemison served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation from 1990 to 1992. In 1993, she founded The Jemison Group Inc., a consulting firm which considers the sociocultural impact of technological advancements and design.[ Jemison also founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and named the foundation in honor of her mother. One of the projects of the foundation is The Earth We Share, a science camp for students aged 12 to 16. Founded in 1994, camps have been held at Dartmouth College, Colorado School of Mines, Choate Rosemary Hall and other sites in the United States, as well as internationally in South Africa, Tunisia, and Switzerland. The Dorothy Jemison Foundation also sponsors other events and programs, including the Shaping the World essay competition, Listening to the Future (a survey program that targets obtaining opinions from students), Earth Online (an online chatroom that allows students to safely communicate and discuss ideas on space and science), and the Reality Leads Fantasy Gala.
Jemison was a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College from 1995 to 2002 where she directed the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries. In 1999, she also became an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. Jemison continues to advocate strongly in favor of science education and getting minority students interested in science. She is a member of various scientific organizations, such as the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, the Association of Space Explorers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1999, Jemison founded BioSentient Corp and obtained the license to commercialize AFTE, the technique she and Mohri tested on themselves during STS-47.
In 2012, Jemison made the winning bid for the DARPA 100 Year Starship project through the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence was awarded a $500,000 grant for further work. The new organization maintained the organizational name 100 Year Starship. Jemison is the current principal of the 100 Year Starship.
In 2018, she collaborated with Bayer Crop Science and National 4-H Council for the initiative named Science Matters which was aimed at encouraging young children to understand and pursue agricultural sciences.
Jemison's first book, Find Where the Wind Goes (2001), is a memoir of her life written for children. She describes her childhood, her time at Stanford, in the Peace Corps and as an astronaut. School Library Journal found the stories about her earlier life to be the most appealing. Book Report found that the autobiography gave a realistic view into her interactions with her professors, whose treatment of was not based on her intelligence but on stereotypes of woman of color.
Her A True Book series of four children's books published in 2013 is co-authored with Dana Meachen Rau. Each book in the series has a "Find the Truth" challenge, true or false questions answers to which are revealed at the end of the story. School Library Journal found the series to be "properly tantalizing surveys" of the Solar System but criticized the inclusion of a few outdated theories in physics and astronomy.