We Will Not Be Erased: 8 Women of Color Who Changed the Face of STEM

Photo by: Ale Cruz
Article by: Jazmine Alcon

The world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has been one I’ve immersed myself in ever since I was a child. The complexity of how the world works and how we have managed to make sense of it through science has and will always be a source of magic for me. I’ve always wondered about the people behind making the magic, specifically people who looked like me. Women of color in STEM have been an essential part of the progress that has allowed modern science to be where it is today. Women of color within STEM have revolutionized the way we see the world under the microscope of science. These women’s work have affected our day to day lives on a macroscopic and microscopic level. It’s only right to learn their names and faces that have been scribbled out in books and classrooms and share them with you.

Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann
Manila born Roseli Ocampo-Friedmann was a Filipino-American botanist and microbiologist who specialized in the study of cyanobacteria (phylum of bacteria that gain energy through the process of photosynthesis) and extremophiles (an organism that can survive extreme conditions such as an extreme rise or drop in temperature that kills most life on Earth). Roseli earned a degree in botany from the University of Philippines and PhD from Florida State University. She and her husband Friedmann are most noted for discovering and successfully culturing microorganisms called cryptoendoliths. These can  survive the cold,rehydrate and photosynthesize after thawing during warmer seasons within the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica. This notable work was cited by NASA as the foundation for life on Mars.

Czarina Saloma-Akpedonu
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Filipino scientist Dr. Czarina Saloma-Akpedonu obtained her doctoral in Sociology and was named as one of the Outstanding Young Scientists by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) in 2007. She has been recognized in her work on analyzing the effects of social science and technology within the Filipino culture and identity.
Chien Shiung-Wu
Chinese-American nuclear physicist Chien Shiung-Wu has made significant contributions in the world of physics, recognized as “the First Lady of Physics”. She was a part of the Manhattan project, a top-secret project during World War II that produced the world’s first nuclear weapons, but is better known for disproving the hypothetical law of conservation of parity.

Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla began working at the NASA Ames Research Center in 1988, specializing in applying computational fluid dynamics research on vertical and short takeoff landing concepts. After becoming an American citizen, Chawla joined the NASA Astronaut Corps. Chawla became the first Indian-born woman to fly in space.

Mae C. Jemison
Mae C. Jemison is the first African-American women to be accepted into an astronaut training program. Along with six other astronauts on mission STS47, Jemison also became the first African-American woman in space. During her days in space on mission STS47, she conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness. Jemison created a science camp for twelve to sixteen year olds called The Earth We Share, where students’ problem solving skills are improved.

Alexa Canady
Alexa Canady became the United States’ first African-American female neurosurgeon. Canady trained at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, specialized in pediatric neurosurgery. In 1984, Canady experienced another first for African-American women, became certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery. After three years, she became the director of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital.
Annie Easley
Beginning her career as the “human computer” in 1955, Easley analyzed problems and calculated them by hand for researchers at “The Lab” (forerunner of the NASA Glenn Research Center). She was one of the only four African-American employees at the Lab. As machines progressed, so did Easley. She became a computer programmer, using her skills to support multiple NASA programs. Easley developed code used to analyze alternative power technology.

Ellen Ochoa
Ellen Ochoa became the world’s first Hispanic female astronaut in 1991. Ochoa was a mission specialist and flight engineer. Her job entailed flight software and computer hardware development and robotics development. Ochoa is a veteran of four space flights, with more than 950 hours logged in space.