STEM Spotlight: Mary J. Blige, NASA Pair Up to Get Girls Into Science
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

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Mary J. Blige is collaborating with NASA to encourage girls to pursue STEM education. (Photo Source: The Thurgood Marshall College Fund)

Mary J. Blige is partnering with NASA to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). NASA released two public service announcements featuring Blige and space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin this week on NASA TV online. In addition, Blige, who cofounded the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now in 2008, has made several television appearances in the last week to talk about the program.

The goal of the collaboration is to garner attention for NASA’s Summer of Innovation, a multiweek, intensive STEM program for middle school teachers and students during summer 2010. Coordinators hope the program, which is in support of President Barack Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign, will counter the “summer slide” (loss of academic skills over the summer) and other issues facing students who are underrepresented, underserved, and underperforming in STEM. SOI programs will take place in several states including Idaho, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Wyoming, and students will learn about and develop projects involving wind turbines, weather stations, engineering in suborbital space, robotics, astrophysics, and space exploration.

Marian Johnson-Thompson, professor emeritus at the University of the District of Columbia, says parents should find female role models in science for their girls.

For STEM Spotlight this week, BlackEnterprise.com spoke with Marian Johnson-Thompson, professor emerita at the University of the District of Columbia and an adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She talked about five things parents can do to encourage their girls to pursue an interest in science.

Expose them to female role models. Find other women in science who can tell your daughters what they did in science when they were young girls, says Johnson-Thompson, the former director of education and biomedical research at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Use role models who can demonstrate that you can be attractive, wear nice clothes, have children, and get married–all while being successful in science. “That may sound a little bit sexist, but it turns out this is what little girls think about early on, and even the young girls I meet today in high school [think you can’t be involved in science and still be feminine],” she says. “If you can expose them to role models who have these characteristics, it is positive reinforcement for them.”

Relate science to activities that girls, in particular, will understand. Tell your daughters about the chemistry involved in cosmetology or the scientific processes involved in cooking, says Johnson-Thompson. There is an entire discipline of science devoted to food science. Show them that bread is made from yeast rising, that pickles are made as a result of the fermentation process, and explain to them the role of microorganisms in yogurt and cheeses. “Explain science so that children can see how it is used in their everyday experiences. Then it will help them to be more engaged,” she says.

Build their math skills early. “Make sure they have a good foundation in math because math is fundamental to science,” says Johnson-Thompson. “If you have a good background in math, science will come easy.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.


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