The battle for equality has been a long fight and, unfortunately, it's not yet over. Diversity is so important in all areas of life, including STEM. Lack of representation in STEM leads to the loss of talent which means missing out on potentially life-changing innovations.
One talented engineer, Mary Jackson, paved the way for minorities when she became NASA's first African American female engineer. NASA has now honoured her legacy after the announcement that their HQ in Washington will be named after Mary W. Jackson.
"Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.” said NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, during the announcement.
Jackson's 3 decades of contributions were largely overlooked until after her death in 2005. Although she may not have got the appreciation she deserved while she was alive, she now stands as an idol for minorities in STEM and has left behind an extremely proud family.
“We are honoured that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother, Mary W. Jackson,” said, Carolyn Lewis, Mary’s daughter. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA but throughout this nation.”
Beginning her career for NASA in the segregated West Area Computing Unit, she managed to work her way toward working hands-on, conducting experiments in the wind tunnel. Her supervisor recognised her talent and suggested she join a training programme to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer.
After completing the training in an all-white classroom, Mary was promoted, becoming NASA's first Black female engineer. But she wasn't done there. After working for two decades, she joined Langley's Federals Women's Program where she worked hard to address the hiring and promotion of the next generation of female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.
“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” said Bridenstine.
"The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honour the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation. Over the years NASA has worked to honour the work of these Hidden Figures in various ways, including naming facilities, renaming streets and celebrating their legacy,” added Bridenstine. “We know there are many other people of colour and diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our success, which is why we’re continuing the conversations started about a year ago with the agency’s Unity Campaign. NASA is dedicated to advancing diversity, and we will continue to take steps to do so.”
We hope that the work of minorities in STEM; past, present and future, continue to be recognised and celebrated in the way that they should be. The more we promote work done by minorities in STEM, the more we will be encouraging future scientists, engineers and mathematicians to work towards their career with enthusiasm and passion.