“Intelligence rules the world, ignorance carries the burden…In your homes and wherever possible, you must teach the higher development of science to your children,and be sure to develop a race of scientists par excellence!” ― Marcus Garvey
Its no surprise that Black men and women are falling behind the economic power curve: not only do we not support our own businesses, but when we choose a career, we reach for the low hanging fruit (jobs with low barriers to entry and low career prospects like retail, customer service, nursing aides, sports and entertainment, food and food service).
Having a well educated and innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) educated workforce is critical to the economic security and prosperity of any nation that hopes to remain viable in the future.
Blacks in STEM: Then and Now
We have a rich modern heritage of Black men and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. From Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee institute and George Washington Carver’s 145 peanut products, to Maj. Robert Lawrence Jr., the first Black Astronaut, and Ronald Ervin McNair (a Black physicist who gave his life aboard the Challenger spacecraft), we have proven time and again in past generations to not only meet but exceed the challenges of working in STEM fields.
You have probably never heard of Dr. Mark Dean, but everything in today’s world has been affected by this Black man’s work. He is the architect of the modern day PC, and holds three of the nine original IBM patents upon which IBM’s empire was built. As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Dean holds 30 other technology -related patents, created the first one gigahertz computer processor chip ( a significant step towards smaller, faster computers), and is the first African American to become an IBM Fellow – the highest level of technical excellence at the company. He is in the National Hall of Inventors, and is currently an IBM Vice President overseeing the Alameda Research Center in San Jose, CA.
The digital revolution that Dr. dean started led directly to the rise of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and every other billionaire technology mogul in existence today.
Dr. Mark Dean is just one of thousands of examples of the potential that we as a people have to dominate the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Getting Started in STEM
Getting started in STEM is easy. I built this site and a few applications without any formal training or guidance. As my knowledge increased, I started attending trade shows and meeting other Blacks in Technology ( shouts out to http://www.blacksintechnology.net/ founder Cleavon J. Blair, who I met at DerbyCon. The point is that all it takes to get started is a desire and access to information (which you have. Get off Facebook and onto Wikipedia!)
Before I forget, shouts out to my man Ed at Dream and Hustle. His recent post, Using Geo-Intelligence and Gap Analysis to Identify Opportunities For Hood Entrepreneurs is a must read!
Regardless of your level of intelligence, with time, commitment, and a little love, anyone can get started in a new career – freelance or professionally.
Some common STEM disciplines are:
|Mathematics (And not “Supreme Mathematics“!):
Financial Planning (Corporate)
3D Animation / Graphic design
Programmer / Software developer
Quality Assurance (QA) / System analyst / Tester
Technical Support (Technician / Help Desk)
Security (aka Red Team) Member
WebMaster / Web Designer
The Department of Labor identifies thirteen sectors that are “projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers.” These are some of the best-paying jobs and have the greatest potential for growth in the 21st century.
- Advanced Manufacturing
- Financial Services
- Geospatial Technology
- Homeland Security (See: How the Government is Tracking Your Every Move)
- Information Technology
- Green Technology
Black STEM Organizations
Once you have found an area that you are interested in, you will of course have to educate yourself or go back to school. In the mean time, it might also be a great idea to join a Black professional association in your field of interest. Its ok to join these association if you are just a hobbyist, but it can be a great resume item as well.
There are hundreds of STEM organizations targeted towards Black men and women in America. Join a chapter, or visit their websites to find out more. Here are 5 to get started with:
BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates)
BDPA was founded in 1975 and is a non-profit organization of professionals working in or having an interest in the Computer Science and Information Technology fields. BDPA has a diverse representation of information technology professionals. Included amongst the organization’s members are programmers, analysts, engineers, managers, instructors, and entrepreneurs, to name a few. Currently, there are more than forty active chapters across the United States.
Blacks in Technology (BIT)
I mentioned Blacks in Technology earlier, but they deserve another mention. They have a strong online presence, and a great network of Black men and women who know what they are talking about. Providing and sharing knowledge is a primary goal for Blacks In Technology, making this a great place to start accumulating knowledge.
They also have a podcast that I highly reccomend checking out. You can find it here.
National Society of Black Engineers
The mission of the NSBE is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. Black men and women have historically been superior engineers (from the Pyramids, Nabta Playa, and The Great Walls of Zimbabwe to the Volta Dam), so the career field may be in your blood without you even knowing it! Headquartered in Alexandria, Va., NSBE offers academic excellence programs, scholarships, leadership training, professional development and access to career opportunities for thousands of members annually. With over 2000 elected leadership positions, 18 regional conferences and an annual convention, NSBE provides opportunities for success that remain unmatched by any other organization
The Association of Black Women Physicians
The Association of Black Women Physicians is an organized network of Black women physicians committed to the improvement of public health and welfare, through the advancement of knowledge concerning women and the community health. Black women got the jump on the fellas in the medical sciences field, thanks to well organized associations like this one.
The National Association of Mathematicians (NAM)
NAM is a non-profit professional organization devoted to the promotion of excellence in the mathematical sciences and the promotion of the mathematical development of African Americans. It also aims to address the issue of the serious under-representation of minorities in the workforce of mathematical scientists. The organization achieves its goals by focusing on five areas:
- Mathematics Education
- Professional/Career Development
- Scholarly Productivity
- Student Development
Their website has job openings, a list of upcoming events, and upcoming panel discussions and business meets. If you are interested in what they do, check them out and get involved.
Learning On Your Own
Many Black in technology start off solo, learning how to program, build electronics, and do basic engineering and repairs on their own. I used two in particular to build this website that you will find very valuable if you are into web technology:
Lynda.com – This site teaches you how to do EVERYTHING! From photography to design and home computing to interactive web. Membership isn’t free, but it is cheap ($25/month). Heres a short list of their 1,187 courses: http://www.lynda.com/allcourses
W3SCHOOLS.COM – W3 Schools offer free tutorials in all web development technologies. You can learn basic HTML, XMPL, programming languages like AJAX and Java, and server scripting and management. ALL FOR FREE, and you can get certified for as little as $95.
There are hundreds of other blogs and sites that teach all aspects of STEM, from the basics to building your own space shuttle. Use Youtube, howto.com, and Facebook to gain a basic understanding and gague your level of interest.
Despite our accomplishments as a people in the past, it is important that we not stagnate and advance into the future. We cant be comfortable with the fact that we are the founders of civilization, but we must actively move into a position of leadership. Doing so honors our ancestors, provides a foundation for our children to build on, and improves our lives and the world around us. STEM is the way forward.