Black History Month Offers Opportunity to Reflect on STEM Leaders

Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.

We have been celebrating STEM pioneers as part of Black History Month throughout this month. It is essential to reflect on these amazing innovators and their contributions. Honoring Black STEM heroes this month and every month serves many purposes. I want to address two here specifically: 1. Honoring these individuals preserves our history. It is also important to mention that these accomplishments were achieved at a time when there was little to no acknowledgment of their brilliance. 2. It serves to inspire future generations of STEM leaders. The students we work with are motivated by others who look like them, who may have come from similar backgrounds, that accomplished unbelievable feats.

We are taking these efforts further through the museum exhibit we are developing, thanks to generous support from the 400 Years of African American History Commission. We are partnering with local Houston curators and museums to bring an informative exhibit detailing the 400-year history of STEM, including C-STEM’s work over the years.

STEM Leaders That Paved the Way

Let us look at some of the inspiring Black leaders that paved the way in STEM. Each of their contributions laid the groundwork for the developments that came after.


Marie M. Daly

Marie M. Daly was the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry. Unfortunately, lack of success in chemistry can often derail Black female students from pursuing career opportunities in STEM. Daly advanced our understanding of the effects of cholesterol, sugars, and proteins on the human body. Sharing her story can help today’s students understand what their dedication to chemistry can achieve.

Lyda Newman

Lyda Newman invented the first hairbrush with synthetic bristles. She was the third Black woman to receive a U.S. patent. Stories like these show what developing the skills to recognize and solve a problem can accomplish.

Vivien Thomas

Vivien Thomas could not afford college in the 1930s, and instead took a job helping with surgical research at Vanderbilt University. The surgical procedures and training Vivien helped develop still utilized globally today. His story continues to affirm that there are multiple paths students can take to achieve success in STEM.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was the third Black American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. She was a pioneer at NASA, determining complex calculations needed for spaceflight. Katherine helped the U.S. figure out the trajectory for our first mission to space and man’s first walk on the moon! Her contribution is an excellent real-world example of how math can change the world, especially with data science increasingly becoming an essential part of all career paths.

Roy Clay

Roy Clay was an American computer scientist and inventor known as the Godfather of Silicon Valley. He developed ground-breaking software for Hewlett-Packard and has helped pave the way for Blacks during the technology boom in Silicon Valley. He is a great example, not only for what he accomplished but also for demonstrating the importance of community and “paying it forward” to help others on their paths.


These are just five of countless stories we can point to in our studies of Black history and STEM.


Continuing the Legacy

I have mentioned before many times that opportunities in STEM are nearly endless. New tech jobs are far outpacing the talent available to fill them. Plus, many of the great STEM jobs available will not need a college degree.

It is up to us to inspire students to seek out these opportunities, providing the needed resources and hands-on learning for the underserved and underrepresented. Celebrating strong, innovative Black leaders is a start to inspiring what is possible. Backing that up by finding the most significant areas of need and addressing them is how we as a STEM community pay it forward. It is our mission every day here at C-STEM. Every day, as an organization, we work to make a tangible difference. Of course, we could not do it without a strong support network of community partners, sponsors, educational allies, volunteers, and supporters. We are so grateful and look forward to finding more ways to continue to move forward together.

I must conclude by asking that you continue to help C-STEM by supporting our mission, following our Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and sharing our posts. On our social media pages, you will find the inspiring stories of the innovators listed here and our work in the community. Please share any post that moves you – the more we spread the word about C-STEM’s mission, the bigger impact we will make! Even though Black History Month has come to a close, let us keep spreading the word. Besides, we celebrate Black History every day!