STEM Change Makers

In honor of that and Black History Month, this month’s Compost highlighted Black women who have made major contributions in STEM fields. As former First Lady Michelle Obama once said, “When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.”

Aprille Ericsson-Jackson

Aprille Ericsson-Jackson earned her Bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1986, graduated from Howard University with both her Master’s and Ph.D., then began her career with NASA. At NASA she works with satellites that monitor Earth, including the Tropical Rain Measuring Mission that provides data on the atmospheric phenomena El Niño and La Niña and their effects on crop productivity. Ericsson-Jackson is also the instrument manager for a proposed mission to bring dust from the lower atmosphere of Mars back to Earth. Find out more about Aprille Ericsson-Jackson.

Ashanti Johnson

Ashanti Johnson is the first African-American female chemical oceanographer and the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in oceanography from Texas A&M University. Johnson uses various biogeochemical indicators to interpret past events that have impacted the marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments in the Arctic and the coastal regions of Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Johnson is also the chief of science and research at Black Girls Dive, an organization that inspires young girls and women to explore aquatic-based recreation activities and career opportunities. Learn more about Ashanti Johnson.

Althea Maybank

Althea Maybank is the associate commissioner at the New York City Department of Mental and Health Hygiene. Her hope is to create  neighborhoods where everyone has access to healthy foods, clean and safe parks, timely healthcare, and education at top-performing schools. A respected health practitioner, her specialities are vast, including preventive medicine, food and fitness, maternal and child health, cancer, HIV/AIDS, community health, and health inequities. Find out more about Althea Maybank. 

Treena Livingston Arinzeh

Treena Livingston Arinzeh was the first to demonstrate that it is possible to use donor stem cells from the bone marrow of adults to form bone marrow that is not rejected by the body. In 2004, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and her research is now used in bone marrow transplant procedures across the country. Through the Project Seeds program, Arinzeh invites 40 – 50 underrepresented high school students to her lab each summer, highlighting the importance of getting students mentors and being involved in afterschool activities so they may also pursue careers in the STEM field. Learn more about Treena Livingston Arinzeh.

Henrietta Lacks

Although not a scientist herself, Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to the medical field is one worth highlighting. In 1951, she went to the doctor and found out she had a malignant tumor on her cervix. A sample of her cancer cells were sent to Dr. George Gey, a prominent cancer and virus researcher. He soon discovered that unlike other cancer cells that would die, Lacks’ cells doubled every 20 – 24 hours. Today, these cells are called HeLa cells and are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. Read more about Henrietta Lacks’ story.


Written by Sherin George

Photo by J. Adam Fenster

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