As educators, we're aware of the impact on students when they witness people who look like themselves achieving greatness. Diversity of cultures and gender is extremely important, and curriculum should reflect that.
For many years, recognition and acknowledgment of highly accomplished people of color and women has been lacking in science classrooms. To combat that, I want to shed light on four scientists of color who can be sources of influence and inspiration to students.
1. Head to Outer Space with Joan Higginbotham
When covering the "Earth's Place in the Universe" unit of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), be sure to share the accomplishments of engineer and astronaut Joan Higginbotham.
Higginbotham's career is filled with wonderful examples of how a woman of color can achieve a vast array of successes—becoming a payload electrical engineer, overseeing more than 60 space shuttle launches for NASA, and even embarking on a mission to the International Space Station in December 2006.
To help your students—especially young girls—understand what it takes to reach Higginbotham's success, have them research the areas of STEM she studied in order to become an electrical engineer.
2. Break Barriers with Edward Alexander Bouchet
A great way to bring Edward Alexander Bouchet into your class is when covering the "Waves and their Applications" standard, light waves, or the electromagnetic spectrum. In 1870, Bouchet was the first African American to break through Yale College's admittance barrier, and six years later, he became the first to receive a doctorate in physics—his dissertation studied light refraction!
When he couldn't initiate a career as a research scientist, he chose to educate youth of color. He became a science teacher at the Institute of Colored Youth, and worked there for 26 years—making him a great role models for educators as well. His achievements, which broke through many barriers, serve as inspiration for our students to follow in the same path.
3. Study Synthesis with Percy Lavon Julian
The units on molecules and matter, as well as chemistry and photosynthesis lessons, are good places to introduce Percy Julian's influence on the synthesis of organic compounds from plants.
Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Julian was able to successfully advance his education despite facing a lot of discrimination. When "No" was the answer in the United States, he traveled to Vienna, Austria, to earn his Ph.D. in the study of chemistry and medicinal plants.
Julian is a great role model for teaching students about adversity. When they're faced with a "No," they can think of his journey to success and push through to achieve their own.
4. Find Your Inner Inventor with Granville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods was a force of creativity as an engineer and inventor. He developed at least 50 patents during his lifetime. When Woods couldn't find work in Cincinnati, Ohio, he founded his own company, Woods Electric Company. In a battle with Thomas Edison over the invention of a telegraph, Woods won.
Engineering skills are a huge part of the NGSS, particularly for middle school and high school science education. I can't think of a better way to honor Woods's inventive spirit and drive than with a makerspace lesson that allows students to create something.
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There are so many more scientists of color that you can include in your lessons—The Famous Scientists and Black Past organizations have some amazing resources to help you out. As educators, we have the privilege of sharing the history of these great achievers with our students. By discussing those who have shown perseverance through indescribable struggles, children of all ages, and from all walks of life, will find the courage to stretch and follow their passions.