Thank you to Bayer, Making Science Make Sense and Dr. Mae C. Jemison for making this post possible.
I have the most amazing post to share with you all today! I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity for a Q&A session with Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman in space. Her story is both amazing and inspiring. Dr. Jemison is also the national science literacy advocate for Bayer’s program Making Science Make Sense. This program recently released a new study showing that as parents, we can (and should) be doing more to foster science learning at home. As a mother myself, this study certainly opened my eyes. I hope you enjoy learning about Dr. Mae C. Jemison as much as I have!
Q: Please tell us a little background about yourself
A: First thing is, I’m curious and always wanted to explore the universe around me. Whether it was plants and trees, the stars, other countries and cultures, art, psychology—I always wanted to know. And I believed steadfastly, even as a child, that I had the capacity and right to participate in the future of this world.
I currently lead 100 Year Starship – a bold initiative to ensure that capabilities exist to make humans travel beyond our solar system to another star within the next 100 years. Why – because the innovation required to do so will offer us what we need to survive as a species on this planet.
My career includes six years as a NASA astronaut, environmental studies professor, medical doctor, and entrepreneur. I’m also pleased to be the national science literacy advocate for Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense® program. Together, we work to improve science achievement in schools across the country.
I grew up in Chicago and went to public schools. I graduated from Stanford with degrees in Chemical Engineering and African and Afro American studies. After getting my M.D. at Cornell, I interned at LA County USC Medical Center, I was the Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia, and worked as doc in LA, before joining the NASA astronaut corps. In 1992, I became the first woman of color to travel into space, when I flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. I was the Science Mission Specialist aboard Spacelab J, a collaborative mission with the Japanese space agency.
Throughout my life I’ve been interested in and done lots of varied things. In fact I had the dilemma upon graduating from college at 20 whether to become a professional dancer or go to medical school. I also enjoy sewing, reading, cooking, art work, engineering, construction, exploring and cultures—when you pay attention, everything is interesting.
Q: Did you want to become an astronaut from an early age? If so, were you also interested in science from an early age?
A: When my kindergarten teacher asked the class the famous question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” everyone around me said: “fireman”, “police officer”, “teacher,” “mother. When the teacher called on me, I said without hesitation, “I want to be a scientist.” In 1961, that was not commonplace for most people, let alone a little black girl. When the teacher said to me, “Don’t you mean a nurse?” I said, “No, I mean a scientist.” That same little girl would stare at the stars, imagining what they were, who lived there; and always assuming she would go to space. I was then and continue to be absolutely fascinated by the stars, planets and universe.
Q: According to the recent Bayer study, “Despite a high level of interest in science, parents provide extracurricular activities for English and math more often. Only one-in-10 (11%) parents provide extracurricular science opportunities for their kids on a daily basis, compared to 38 percent for English and 19 percent for math. More than half (56%) of parents say they provide extracurricular science activities only once a week or less, compared to 26 percent for English and 42 percent for math.” Why do you think parents don’t provide more extracurricular science activities?
A: I believe it’s because so many people, parents and teachers included, are afraid of science. They are not confident in their abilities—they think that they have to know all the “answers”.
Based on the Bayer survey results, we know parents understand the importance of at-home activities to bolster their children’s in-school success, and are willing to provide these activities. However, since many parents don’t have confidence in their ability in sciences, it’s difficult to know what to do. In fact, ninety five percent of parents agree that it would be helpful to have tips for turning simple activities into science learning opportunities for their children.
To help parents engage their children in hands-on science activities (the most effective for learning) it’s important for parents to have a place to access resources. And to know science is about exploration and finding the answers. That, in fact, they don’t have to know the answers. It is an incredible example to just be willing to work with their kids to discover questions and answers in science and the world around us.
Q: What are some extracurricular science activities that parents can provide for children?
A: Science is all around us, so parents don’t have to look very far to engage kids’ natural sense of wonder. Inspiration can be found in everything from growing plants, to baking, to sky gazing or building a telescope. Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense initiative is sharing these tips for teaching science with easy, fun and everyday examples at home, including: turning bread baking into a delicious lesson in how yeast works; turning tending to a vegetable garden into a lesson in backyard ecosystems; and teaching the science behind shimmery make-up colors.
Q: As parents, we want our children to dream big and succeed. Who encouraged you from a young age and helped you succeed as an adult?
A: Personally, I think people should stop using the word “dream” because it implies something you can’t do. Rather, I prefer the question, “What do you intend to do?” “What kind of person do you intend to be?” I’ve had many people in my life that helped me do what I intended… but my parents were my best teachers and supporters. My mother was an elementary school teacher in Chicago Public Schools and my father was a carpenter and roofer. Yet, my parents were also the best scientists I knew, because they were always asking questions and analyzing data (information) to come up with solutions.
My mother demanded that my siblings and I not only gather data before making decisions, but we also had to analyze it critically, test our conclusions against reality and then look at our results from a different perspective. She never allowed me to do just enough to get by or “rest on my laurels”— she would challenge me to do more and be my best self. In fact my foundation is named after her and her maxims: the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, because we should all rise to our own levels of excellence.
A: I’ve been with the program since the beginning, because I believe in its mission and I have a passion for science literacy. The company-wide program seeks to advance science literacy across the United States through hands-on, inquiry-based learning, employee volunteerism, community partnerships and public education. Bayer really has done a tremendous job to bring innovative, hands-on science education programs to students, teachers and parents, and I’ve been pleased to be a part of that for more than 20 years now.
Q: How can parents increase awareness and educate other parents and caregivers, about how important science is to our children and their future?
A: I’ve been very involved in science literacy because it’s critically important in our world today. Science literacy is the baseline level of knowledge and skills that allow us as citizens to read news articles about healthcare, the environment or new technology and understand what it means for ourselves, our families and our community. Science literacy isn’t about figuring out how to solve equations. Rather, it’s about being able to take in information, form opinions and vote responsibly on issues. Really, when you get down to it, it’s about being able to think your way through the day.
And parents serve as first-line role models to encourage critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration – skills we all need, regardless of the careers we choose. Through a new partnership, Bayer is working with the National Parent Teacher Association to bring an initiative called ‘STEM Plus Families’ to parents and caregivers. The initiative will provide resources and information to help families navigate science education and careers. Stay tuned for more information coming in 2017.