To celebrate Black History Month, we thought it would be cool to acknowledge some black innovators who are making history in STEAM-related industries.
As lovers of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and champions of the human spirit, we appreciate life-changing breakthroughs. With respect to the black innovators who paved the way for our society’s progress—in science, in art, and in life—we’d like to take a look at some of our more contemporary partners of color in STEAM.
1. Neil deGrasse Tyson
We’d be crazy not to mention Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysics rock star whose essays, articles, letters, and blogs express perceptions of space exploration, wormholes and black holes, and even religion.
I’m not going to pretend to know what he’s talking about half the time, because let’s face it—I’m not that smart. But it’s impossible to ignore his mind-bending perspectives on star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and so much more. Dr. deGrasse Tyson’s flare for unfolding the fabric of space and time is second to none, and the man is a genius in more ways than one. That rhymes, and I have a hunch that Dr. deGrasse Tyson would appreciate that.
A public school kid from the Bronx, Dr. deGrasse Tyson earned his BA in Physics from Harvard and his PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia. He is as entertaining as he is brilliant, I promise. Check him out on the Internet and get lost in your own universe of intergalactic splendor.
2. Majora Carter
Another Bronx native, Majora Carter, is a meteoric figure in her own right. Among a long list of accomplishments and experience, Ms. Carter is the CEO of StartUp Box, a social enterprise (just like Bak USA) that provides quality assurance services in New York City. Committed to “creating a technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem” in typically low-income areas (just like Bak USA), StartUp Box is preparing kids in the community for careers in science and technology.
And as an activist for environmental justice and green development in urban areas, Ms. Carter delivered an “emotionally charged” 2006 TED Talk during which the MacArthur-winner “details her fight for environmental justice in the South Bronx—and shows how minority neighborhoods suffer most from flawed urban policy.”
Ms. Carter speaks of the sort of sustainability that we at Bak USA aim to achieve here in Buffalo, New York, and in other major metropolitan areas across the country and around the world. Her words and work are an inspiration to us all, and we applaud her efforts and accomplishments in the STEAM community.
3. Matthew Nelson
Matthew Nelson is the national chairman of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), a non-profit organization comprised of over 30,000 members worldwide. The largest student-governed organization in the United States, the NSBE’s mission is to “increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”
As the NSBE’s faithful leader, Mr. Nelson is committed to helping 10,000 African-American men and women graduate with bachelor’s degrees in an engineering-related field by the year 2025. A credentialed engineer himself, Mr. Nelson is an advocate for nontraditional and minority students, encouraging them to pursue science and tech professions. Indeed, Mr. Nelson is proving that “it’s never too late to be an engineer.”
Also committed to social justice, equal opportunities, and STEAM-related careers, we share Mr. Nelson’s enthusiasm for diversifying the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
4. Kara Walker
Kara Walker “is known for creating black-and-white silhouette works that invoke themes of African American racial identity,” and while I cannot speak personally to such invocations, I can say wholeheartedly that Ms. Walker’s artwork is simply stunning.
According to her description on artnet.com, Ms. Walker “confronts social and political themes through painting, illustration, film, and text,” which we feel resonate with our own mission to inspire social equality. Her bold expressions of what life has looked like throughout history, how it affects our perception of the present, and how it might influence our actions in the future is—at times—incendiary.
Ms. Walker earned her BFA from Atlanta College of Art and her MFA in printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design. And as the youngest person to accept the MacArthur Foundation Scholarship, she is surely a shining example of how young black artists—or all aspiring artists, for that matter—can make a name for themselves at major institutions such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
5. Katherine Adebola Okikiolu
Dr. Katherine Adebola Okikiolu is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California. Of Nigerian and British descent, Dr. Adebola Okikiolu attended Cambridge University (just like Bak USA CTO Christian Bak) where she earned her BA in mathematics. She also attended the University of California at Los Angeles (again like Bak USA CTO Christian Bak) where she earned her PhD.
A PhD in what, exactly? Well, it’s hard to say. Literally. Evidently her thesis aimed to “solve a problem concerning asymptotics of determinants of Toeplitz operators on the sphere and a conjecture of Peter Jones, characterizing subsets of rectifiable curves in Euclidean n-space.”
Right. So, I don’t know what any of that means, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t sound impressive.
A postdoctoral student at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study and at MIT, a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), and the first black woman to publish an article in the Annals of Mathematics, Dr. Katherine Adebola Okikiolu “has achieved success and contributed to the development of mathematical ideas in the twenty-first century.”
We’re proud to recognize such a strong and brilliant black woman for her contributions to the field of mathematics, and we commend her for all she has achieved.
There are so many people of color who make incredible contributions to our society, and to be honest, one month of acknowledgment simply isn’t enough to celebrate them all. As we continue to participate in Black History Month in February and all the months to follow, we hope you will join us.
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James A. Colombo III
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