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Celebrating Black History Month + Engineers Week: Highlighting Historic Role Models

For my role managing social media, I was really excited to write a dual story on Black History Month and Engineers Week, celebrating black female engineers whose careers and stories are inspiring to us here at Techbridge.  But I have to be honest. Not only was finding women engineers of historical significance difficult, but finding women engineers of color was particularly difficult. This assignment was a stark reminder to me about why the work we do at Techbridge is imperative – to help create opportunities for women and girls of color to become engineers and be featured on lists like this one day!

The challenge I encountered while researching for this blog post was confirmed with statistics: the numbers of prominent black engineers and scientists are staggeringly low. Today, only 2 percent of African American women are represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, while women in total make up 24 percent of the STEM workforce. These low numbers do not reflect the ability of black women in STEM, but instead represent industries that have been historically exclusive and hostile to women of color especially. We have so much respect for the women who have broken down barriers and became (or are becoming) the first in their field to reach a new height. They are the examples for girls of the next generation.

At Techbridge, this is why we have served over 5,000 girls in the Bay Area and continue to support girls every day. To show them they can be whoever they want to be – even if that means they may be the first girl like themselves to do so – and to create the next generation of hard-working, strong, smart, and diverse leaders. 

Today we honor four women who achieved great success, and did so despite having very few examples of people who looked like them to follow. We thank and praise them for their dedication and grit.


1. Dr. Mae Jemison: First African American Woman to travel in Space

Dr. Mae Jemison is a physician, NASA astronaut, Peace Corps alumni, advocate for science literacy, and a trained dancer! Her long career in the sciences began by attending Stanford University at age 16, followed by Medical School at Cornell and working at NASA by age 31.  In her pioneering career, Jemison used Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism as a driving force and believed in the power of reaching high. She said, "The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up." (Fun fact: Techbridge’s conference room is named after Dr. Jemison!)


2. Valerie Thomas: Physicist, NASA Scientist and inventor of the Illusion Transmitter

Inventing anything is a feat of engineering—especially when it involves brand new technology! Valerie Thomas attended Morgan State University where she was one of just two women majoring in physics. Thomas then went on to work as a data scientist at NASA, where she gained the skills and experience to develop the Illusion Transmitter. The Illusion Transmitter is a “device for displaying the three-dimensional illusion of an object—without using a laser.” Her invention is still used in NASA labs today!


3.  Annie Easley: Computer Scientist, Mathematician, and Rocket Scientist 

Annie Easley was one of the first black, female computer programmers and she did so in a time of deep discrimination and prejudice against women and people of color. She persevered, got her BS in Mathematics from Cleveland State University and eventually helped develop computer code for rockets and energy technology. Annie Easley was also active in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Movement in the early 1960s working to get people registered and voting, despite literacy tests and poll taxes. On discrimination she experienced in her career she said, “When people have their biases and prejudices, yes, I am aware. My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can't work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be so discouraged that I'd walk away. That may be a solution for some people, but it's not mine.” 


4. Marie Van Brittan Brown: Inventor of the first home security system 

Though she was a nurse by profession, Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband created the first home security system using motorized cameras and circuits to monitor the entryway of their home. She received a patent for a closed circuit television security system in 1969 and modern home security systems are derived from her original idea. Marie Van Brittan Brown is an example of a woman who used engineering in her everyday life—she wanted to feel safer in her home in Queens, New York – so she created something to give her more peace of mind.   


5. Who will be next?

We know that girls in Techbridge, and girls everywhere, have the potential to become the next history-making engineers and inventors. So who will it be? Who will guide them in their journey? Who will invest in their success? Will it be YOU?











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