On last weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live, comedian Leslie Jones performed a “Weekend Update” skit that made a great point—we’re not taught enough about the contributions of African Americans to society. Some of Jones’s dialogue from the sketch:
I thought [Hidden Figures] was going to be “The Help” in space. I’m so glad I watched the movie; it taught me something I never knew. Black women helped astronauts go to space.
We should learn black history all year round and teach it to everybody. Like did y’all know a black man invented the traffic light? I just learned that [..] and get this, a black person invented the mailbox…Guess what else a black person invented? Caller I.D. and Call Waiting! It was invented by Dr. Shirley Jackson.
Here are seven interesting facts about Dr. Jackson:
- She is currently the president of the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She’s also the highest-paid president of a private college.
- She is a theoretical physicist and held senior leadership positions in academia, government, industry, and research.
- She has a B.S. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics, both from MIT.
- She is the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, and the first African American woman to serve as president at a top-ranked research university.
- Her invention of the technology responsible for Caller ID and Call Waiting stems from days at AT&T Bell Labs where she conducted research in theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics.
- She has been awarded 53 honorary doctoral degrees.
- She was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for contributions in science and engineering by President Obama in 2015.
Dr. Jackson was also a past Black Enterprise’s Women of Power Legacy Award Winner. She is a strong advocate of diversity not only in technology and the sciences but also at the corporate executive levels and in boardrooms.
“I think one can obviously say the diverse perspectives are very important to the functioning of a great company and particularly one that accesses diverse markets,” she said in the July/August 2016 edition of Black Enterprise magazine.