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In the spirit of celebrating Black History Month this October, we are excited to shine a spotlight on the remarkable contributions of black individuals in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This is an opportunity to recognize and honour the exceptional achievements of those who have broken barriers, defied odds and blazed a trail for future generations. Today, we will delve into the inspiring journeys and profound impacts of four distinguished figures in the world of STEM: Annie J. Easley, Katherine Johnson, Mark E. Dean and Roy Clay Sr. These luminaries have not only left an indelible mark on the landscape of technology and innovation but also continue to inspire and guide worldwide with their remarkable legacies.
Annie J. Easley
Born in 1933, Annie J. Easley was raised by her mother in Birmingham, Alabama. Mrs Easley left Alabama to attend University in New Orleans, Louisiana where she began studying Pharmacy. Upon her return home, Mrs Easley discovered the local pharmacy school had closed forcing her to look for alternative work.
Mrs Easley turned to the newspaper, where she read a story regarding two twin sisters working as ‘computers’, solving mathematical conundrums for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the prelude to NASA. Within two weeks she was working for the organisation as one of four black employees (out of 2,500 staff) at the Lewis Research Station.
As computers grew in popularity, Mrs Easley learnt FORTRAN, becoming a programmer, and worked on studies exploring the idea of battery powered vehicles, similar to the idea of today’s hybrid car. This work developed, leading to Mrs Easley’s most famous work on the Centaur rocket, a rocket powered by a one-of-a-kind fuel system.
Mrs Easley stayed with NASA for over 30 years, undertaking additional responsibilities such as an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Counsellor, to promote and address issues relating to race, gender, and age discrimination.
Mrs Easley retired in 1989 but was an active supporter in the Speaker’s Bureau and the Business & Professional Women’s Association. Annie Easley was inducted into the NASA Glenn Research Hall of Fame in 2015, following her passing on 25th June 2011.
In 1918, Katherine Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. From an early age, Katherine showed excellence in numerarcy, accelerating her early academic life. By the age of 15, Katherine was handpicked as 1 of 3 black students to begin integrating in West Virginia’s graduate schools where she found a mentor in mathematics professor W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, only the third African American to earn a PhD in Mathematics. By the end of her studies, Katherine had graduated with highest honours and became a teacher in Virginia.
After working as a teacher, she applied and joined the the Langley Research Center (which would later join NASA) in the summer of 1953. Katherine Johnson functioned as a ‘human computer’ calculating essential flight information for NASA’s first space flights, such as Project Mercury and Apollo 11.
In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for her achievements throughout life and within the American space programme. In 2017, Katherine Johnson’s efforts were imortalised in the film Hidden Figures.
Mark E. Dean
Dr Mark E. Dean was born in Jefferson City, Tennessee on 2nd March 1957. Having achieved straight A’s from Jefferson City High School, Dr Dean graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Tennessee, before achieving a PhD from Stanford University.
After leaving education, Dr Dean joined IBM and became a rising star within the organisation. Working with Dennis Moeller, he assisted in the development of the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) system allowing devices we all use every day, such as drives, monitors and printers, to be connected directly into personal PCs. Dr Dean’s innovation flourished, leading to the development of over 20 patents through his work. By 1999, he assisted in the development of the colour PC monitor and more recently, led work into the creation of the first gigahertz chip – technology enabling the calculation of billions of calculations in a single second!
In 1996, Dr Dean became the first African American to be named an IBM fellow. In 1997, he was inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.
Roy Clay Sr.
Often heralded as the ‘Godfather of Silicon Valley’, Roy Clay Sr. was born in Kinloch, Missouri Clay, and became one of the first black men to graduate from Saint Louis University with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. In 1958 Mr Clay began work as a computer programmer at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, coding software to demonstrate radiation spreads following atomic explosions.
By 1963, Roy Clay Sr. was employed by Control Data Corporation developing a computer programming language known as Fortran. Having built a reputation for excellence, Roy Clay Sr. was approached and recruited by David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, in 1965 to set up and lead HP’s computer development business. By the 1970’s, Roy Clay Sr. began work as a Computer Consultant in Silicon Valley and proceeded to lead HP’s entrance into the modern computer market. In 2003, Mr Clay was immortalised in Silicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame.
As we reflect on these incredible legacies, we must remember that their stories are just a fraction of the countless narratives waiting to be uncovered and celebrated during Black History Month. Their achievements are a testament to the limitless potential within each of us, regardless of our background, and they remind us that innovation knows no bounds. In the world of .NET development and technology at large, we are empowered by these remarkable pioneers who broke barriers and opened doors for all aspiring engineers and developers. Let us continue to draw inspiration from their incredible journeys and remember that Black History Month is not just about commemorating the past but also about looking forward, celebrating the present, and shaping a more diverse and inclusive future in STEM.