As a company in the tech industry, New Context continuously strives to make our environment more inclusive to underrepresented groups. We know that when it comes to the STEM disciplines, the representation of black people is exceedingly low for a host of reasons. But one of the best ways to begin to move the needle is to educate ourselves and our peers on the black pioneers who have made an impact on America. We must first seek to understand (and celebrate!) the pivotal role that black people have played in shaping our country. Armed with that knowledge, we can prove that the capacity for passion, innovation, or genius cannot be determined by something as biologically shallow as skin color.
Every year, America celebrates Black History Month, but how many of us know of its origins?
It all started with Carter G. Woodson (December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950) – an author, journalist, and historian. He founded the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History in 1915. Dedicated to sharing the various achievements of black Americans, Woodson founded “Negro History Week” in 1926, which then became “Black History Month” in 1976.
In honor of Black History Month, we would like to share a few key black people in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who have paved the way to the modern world we live in today:
Granville T. Woods (1856 – 1910): A successful inventor, Woods invented 15 appliances for electric railways and received nearly 60 patents, most of which were related to the railroad industry. He is most well-known for inventing the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which allowed for communications between moving trains and train stations. It was so impressive that Thomas Edison sued, claiming that he invented the device first. When Woods won the case, Edison persisted, even offering a high position within his company. Woods declined. Throughout his active years, he sold his works to many large companies including General Electric, American Bell Telephone Company, and Westinghouse.
Melba Roy Mouton (1929 – 1990): A mathematician who held the role of Assistant Chief of Research Programs at NASA. Mouton was head mathematician for Echo Satellites 1 and 2, tracking their orbit along with a team she led of NASA mathematicians they called “computers”. She went on to become Head Computer Programmer at NASA, and then Program Production Section Chief at Goddard Space Flight Center. While at NASA Mouton received both the Apollo Achievement Award and an Exceptional Performance Award.
Roy Clay Sr. (1929 – Present): A computer scientist and inventor, Clay’s career started at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, where he created software to measure the spread of radiation after an atomic explosion. He was an integral part of the development of the Computer Science division at Hewlett Packard, and directed the team that developed one of HP’s first minicomputers, the HP 2116A. While at HP, he developed a number of initiatives centered around African-American representation in Silicon Valley. Clay went on to start his own company after inventing the high potential (hipot) safety test for electrical equipment.
Dr. Patricia S. Cowings (1948 – Present): An aerospace psychophysiologist, Cowings is known for inventing and patenting the Autogenic-Feedback Training Exercise: a physiological training system provided to astronauts to mitigate motion sickness and spatial disorientation. It trains the recipients to control 24 bodily systems (including breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating). Her developments in this area have even been adopted by the military for ground training in extreme environments. Cowings has received a number of awards from NASA, including the Individual Achievement Award, the Space Act Award for Invention, and the Space Act Board Award.
Although Woodson was the catalyst for our current annual celebration, he often expressed his hope for a day when it would become unnecessary. He is quoted as saying, “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate and religious prejudice.”
Until that day comes, we at New Context will continue to do our part in amplifying and celebrating black voices and minds in America.
If you’re interested in supporting black people in STEM, here are a few organizations to get you started: