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Black History Month

Black History Month is an annual celebration of the achievements and contributions made by African-Americans. This month began as an appreciation week founded by Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland in 1926, and every president since has signed a proclamation designating February as Black History Month.

Throughout history, we often hear of civil rights leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Bevel, John Lewis, Hank Aaron, Reverend Jesse Jackson, former President Barack Obama, and many others who have paved the path for equality in the United States. Similarly, there are many African-Americans in STEM fields that have made significant contributions to advancements in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. According to Diverse Education, over the past 60 years, the percentage of African-Americans attending and graduating from colleges and universities has nearly quadrupled from less than 5% in 1960 to nearly 15% in 1998 and 22% in 2015. Still, African-Americans only represent 6% of the total population of engineers compared to other ethnicities. So we must close this gap by teaching and telling more stories of Blacks in STEM fields.

Here are some of their stories below.

Mark Dean


Mark E. Dean was born on 03/02/1957 in Tennessee. When he worked for IBM, he held three of the original patents that would eventually lead to IBM’s first home computer. In addition, he helped designed the ISA System, which allows various devices to connect to a PC. Mark Dean even helped develop the first gigahertz chip. In addition to these accomplishments, Mark Dean is the first African American to become an IBM Fellow.

Katherine Johnson


Katherine Johnson (born 08/26/1918) is very well known for having worked with NASA as one of their top mathematicians. It was with her help that NASA was able to successfully achieve the grand feat of space exploration, having helped calculate the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space. She even did manual calculations to plot navigation charts for astronomers in case of any electronic failures during space travel. Katherine Johnson was so skilled that, at a time electronic computers were used to verify flight calculations, astronomer John Glenn would refuse to take part of any flight unless Katherine herself had verified the accuracy of this math.

George Carruthers


George Carruthers may not be well known, but his contribution to the STEM fields is incredibly important. He developed a patent for an ultraviolet camera/spectrograph that NASA would eventually use to plan the Apollo 16 mission. In addition to this, George believed in educational outreach, and would eventually found the Science and Engineers Apprentice Program. This allowed interested high school students to intern with scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory.

James E. West


James E. West is an acoustician that holds 250 different patents in regards, which is a greatly impressive number. His most important contribution, though, is a design for a foil electret microphone, which has several advantages compared to the old condenser microphones being used at the time. Around 90% of microphone-based products like cell phones, baby monitors, and even hearing aids still rely on this contribution.

Roy Clay


Roy Clay, Sr. played an important role in the overall development of Silicon Valley. He was selected by Hewlett-Packard to help innovate developments in their computer division and eventually helped their launch into the computer market by helping create their 2116A model. This kind of success was not enough for him, though, and he would eventually found ROD-L Electronics, one of the world leaders in electronic safety equipment. He even became the first African American councilman to serve the city of Palo Alto.

Wana Austin


Wanda Austin earned her doctorate of systems engineering from the University of Southern California, but her drive as a leader is even more impressive. She would eventually become the CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, which is the leader for the nation’s security space programs. Wanda Austin also served on the NASA Advisory Council, the Defense Science Board, and even the International Academy of Astronautics. It isn’t any wonder that, with this combination of leadership and intelligence, that she would be selected to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2015.

Lonnie Johnson


As an engineer and inventor, Lonnie Johnson has over 100 patents to his name. While his invention of the Super Soaker Gun is his claim to fame, people often forget his contributions outside this. After graduating college, Lonnie joined the Airforce to help work on the stealth bomber program, and he would eventually work for NASA at their Jet Propulsion Lab, which would eventually lead to the Galileo Mission to Jupiter. In addition to this, he has most recently been working with scientists from Tulane University to find a method of transforming heat into electricity. This would make green energy more affordable for everyone, an admirable goal.