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Telling the Stories of Black STEM Pioneers

Telling-The-Stories-Of-Black-Stem-Pioneers-pics-1-Bernard-Harris-1995-2-20-17.pngBernard Harris, a NMSI board member, became the first African-American to walk in space in 1995. During his spacewalk, Harris tested spacesuits to help keep space-walkers warmer in the extreme cold of space. Before being selected as an astronaut, he served as a clinical scientist and surgeon. In those roles, Harris conducted clinical investigations of space adaptation and the development of countermeasures for extended space flights. Eventually, Dr. Harris rose to the marks of Mission Specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia and Payload Commander on Space Shuttle Discovery. Between these two missions, Dr. Harris logged 438 hours and traveled more than 7.2 million miles in space.

Telling-The-Stories-Of-Black-Stem-Pioneers-pics-2-Marie-Maynard-Daly-1947-2-20-17.pngIn 1947, Marie Maynard Daly became the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in chemistry. Dr. Daly researched the composition and metabolism of components in the cell nucleus as a professor at Howard University. In 1988, she established a scholarship fund at her alma mater, Queens College, for African-Americans in honor of her father

Telling-The-Stories-Of-Black-Stem-Pioneers-pics-3-Daniel-hale-Williams-1891-2-20-17-(1).pngKatherine Johnson is one of the inspirations behind the award-winning movie Hidden Figures. In 1962, NASA called upon her to complete the trajectory analysis for John Glenn’s first orbital flight. In preparation for the flight, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”— Johnson—to calculate the numbers for the flight by hand. “If she says they’re good,’” Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.” Glenn’s flight was a success, making him the first American to orbit the Earth.

 In 1891, Daniel Hale Williams opened Provident Hospital, the first medical facility with an interracial staff. He also performed the first successful open-heart surgery during his time at the hospital. Dr. Williams went on to serve as surgeon-in-chief at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., and to organize the National Medical Association (NMA) in 1895 - the only national medical organization open to black physicians at the time.

Telling-The-Stories-Of-Black-Stem-Pioneers-pics-4-Elbert-Cox-1925-2-20-17.pngIn 1925, Elbert Cox became the first African-American to earn a doctorate in mathematics.  Dr. Cox continued to pursue a career in teaching at West Virginia State College and Howard University. In honor of his contributions to the field, the university set up the Elbert Cox Scholarship Fund to encourage young black students to study mathematics at the graduate level.   

Alexa CanadyUpon completing her medical residency in 1981, Alexa Canady became the first black female neurosurgeon in the United States. Dr. Canady specialized as a pediatric neurosurgeon and served as chief of neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital in Michigan, where she served thousands of patients with traumatic brain injuries.