While the names and enormous accomplishments of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were left out of history books, these brilliant African American women are now getting the recognition they deserve with the release of the blockbuster film “Hidden Figures” in 2016.
In honor of Black History Month in February, Booz Allen Hamilton held a series of “Hidden Figures” screenings in theatres across the country. The firm encouraged its employees not just to attend the film, but to start conversations around diversity and inclusion that bridge differences across its social channels.
The firm continued the conversation in March, Women’s History Month, by launching a series of profiles featuring Booz Allen’s own brilliant women engineers. The series explores why these women chose STEM-related careers and how their technical skills and contributions are making a difference to solve some of the biggest challenges of today.
And Velma Deleveaux, Ph.D., principal at Booz Allen Hamilton is one of those women (pictured right). As a child, Velma emigrated to the U.S. from Crooked Island, Bahamas, population: 250. Now, in her 13th year at Booz Allen, she’s a principal in the firm’s civil and commercial business. With a background in industrial systems, and manufacturing engineering, Velma examines every angle of a problem to design truly optimized systems, strategies, and solutions.
Velma finds inspiration in attacking big challenges and helping people see beyond their circumstances to understand their true potential. “I love the look on people’s faces when the light turns on and they realize what they’re capable of.”
To ensure equality for women and minorities in the workplace, Velma says, “It’s essential to find and promote diverse talent for the sake of performance, not just diversity for its own sake. Studies show diverse teams derive better solutions because they bring diverse perspectives.”
When astronaut Scott Kelly spent nearly a year in space, his heart shrank despite the fact that he worked out six days a week over his 340-day stay, according to a new study.
Surprisingly, researchers observed the same change in Benoît Lecomte after he completed his 159-day swim across the Pacific Ocean in 2018.
The findings suggest that long-term weightlessness alters the structure of the heart, causing shrinkage and atrophy, and low-intensity exercise is not enough to keep that from happening. The study published Monday in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
Photo : CNN
The gravity we experience on Earth is what helps the heart to maintain both its size and function as it keeps blood pumping through our veins. Even something as simple as standing up and walking around helps pull blood down into our legs.
When the element of gravity is replaced with weightlessness, the heart shrinks in response.
Kelly lived in the absence of gravity aboard the International Space Station from March 27, 2015, to March 1, 2016. He worked out on a stationary bike and treadmill and incorporated resistance activities into his routine six days a week for two hours each day.
Lecomte swam from June 5 to November 11, 2018, covering 1,753 miles and averaging about six hours a day swimming. That sustained activity may sound extreme, but each day of swimming was considered to be low-intensity activity.
Even though Lecomte was on Earth, he was spending hours a day in the water, which offsets the effects of gravity. Long-distance swimmers use the prone technique, a horizontal facedown position, for these endurance swims.
Researchers expected that the activities performed by both men would keep their hearts from experiencing any shrinkage or weakening. Data collected from tests of their hearts before, during and after these extreme events showed otherwise.
Kelly and Lecomte both experienced a loss of mass and initial drop in diameter in the left ventricles of the heart during their experiences.
Both long-duration spaceflight and prolonged water immersion led to a very specific adaptation of the heart, said senior study author Dr. Benjamin Levine, a professor of internal medicine/cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
While the authors point out that they only studied two men who both performed extraordinary things, further study is needed to understand how the human body reacts in extreme situations.
Although women are graduating with science degrees in increasing numbers, their representation diminishes by the time they reach more senior levels.
To give women a sense of belonging in STEM departments—and ultimately ensure the world benefits from their ideas and insights—over a dozen groups at Stanford University are pushing their communities to amplify and encourage the influence of women in STEM.
One such group, led by Margot Gerritsen, professor of energy resources engineering in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, runs an international network of data science conferences that feature woman panelists and speakers called the Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS).
“We do not just want work with women at the exclusion of others. We do want to promote outstanding work by outstanding women, and show women they are not alone in this field.” Gerritsen said.
A Vision for Stanford
As part of Stanford’s vision, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative is working across the entire campus community to advance the university’s commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion.
“Promoting diversity at Stanford is critical for ensuring our intellectual strength and ability to contribute to our communities in meaningful ways,” said Provost Persis Drell. “The number of women undergraduates in STEM subjects at Stanford is increasing—which is great—but there is still a large disparity for women entering these fields professionally. And women leave their STEM-based careers at a much higher rate than men. These campus organizations help call attention to these issues.”
Centering Women, Welcoming All
Stanford’s Women in STEM groups focus on supporting women, but are open to anyone who shares the goal of promoting a supportive and encouraging environment for all.
“The default is for men to feel more wanted and for women to doubt whether they should attend an event or speak up during a discussion. It’s important to have some spaces where we reverse that expectation and explicitly tell women that they belong here,” said Julia Olivieri, a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering who is also co-president of Women in Mathematics, Statistics and Computational Engineering (WiMSCE).
Olivieri founded WiMSCE with her co-president, Allison Koenecke, also a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, inspired by Gerritsen’s efforts to elevate women in their institute.
As with many similar groups, they aim to create an environment where women don’t have to worry about being the spokesperson for their gender or about bringing up issues specific to being a woman in STEM.
“Oftentimes you’re the only woman in the room, so you’re scared that if you say something wrong, not only will they think you’re stupid, they’ll think that all women are stupid,” said Koenecke. “These women-centric groups, like WiMSCE, are a place for women to gain experience in asking questions and not be afraid to fail.”
The Women in STEM groups at Stanford support many activities, bridging professional, personal and cultural enrichment. They host networking and career development events, where attendees can find mentors, meet with industry professionals and learn how to ask for raises. They have informal community-building events, like paint nights and hangouts, to discuss the week’s highs and lows.
The groups do delve into specific issues that tend to go hand-in-hand with existing as a woman in academia, such as the imposter syndrome (the idea that you don’t deserve your success, even in the face of clear evidence that you do) and the “mom effect” (the expectation that as teachers, they should be more nurturing than teachers who are men).
“I went to community college before transferring and was fortunate enough to learn about programs that encourage women and minorities in science,” said Priscilla San Juan, a graduate student in biology and president of Stanford Hermanas in STEM. “We can make an impact just by being present, so that these young students can see that there’s more than one kind of scientist.”
Many of Stanford’s groups supporting women in STEM are having an impact outside the campus community. Stanford’s Womxn in Design had over 350 people attend their conference last fall, and hosted their first makeathon in February.
“As we were searching for a diverse lineup of conference speakers, we were faced with the harsh reality— the rest of the field isn’t really elevating womxn of color. So, we are really pushing to be more inclusive,” said Nicole Orsak, a management science and engineering major and co-president of Stanford Womxn in Design. “We’ve also changed the ‘e’ in our name to an ‘x’ to make it clear that we welcome all womxn and, really, anyone who is an ally to womxn.”
Stanford’s Hermanas in STEM is also considering a name change in order to reinforce that their membership goes beyond women and Latinx people.
“Everyone is welcome in Hermanas in STEM. All we ask is that people advocate for Latinx folks in academic spaces because we don’t always feel welcome or that we belong,” added San Juan.
Gerritsen, too, acknowledges that the success of WiDS sets the stage for a more complex effort to promote other minority groups in data science, such as women of color and gender non-binary people.
For now, she’s focused on how to make the WiDS network as strong as possible.
“What I’m hoping is someday these conferences are totally unnecessary. That would be great,” said Gerritsen. “We just want to normalize that there are women out there doing outstanding work.”
In partnership with Women and Drones, Monumental Access has been creating a multi-part documentary for a behind-the-scenes look into the professionals, especially women, in the uncrewed aviation space. The multi-part documentary will give a birds-eye view of the significance of the drone industry by capturing in-depth interviews with educators, CEOs, and professionals allowing their stories to be told from the first-person perspective. Viewers will have an all-access look into the women’s lives who are shaping the industry.
“Women and Drones has been an important supporting partner of Commercial UAV Expo for years. We are thrilled that we can help elevate their mission and provide a documentary filming location to access some of the most influential leaders in the commercial drone industry by bringing the filming location to Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas,” said Lora Burns, Marketing Manager and Coordinator of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion UAV Empower initiatives at Commercial UAV Expo.
“The partnership with Monumental and Commercial UAV Expo will allow us to capture stories of the individuals who are contributing to the future of STEM and aviation. From the nonprofits and educational organizations introducing youth to aviation and STEM via drones to the innovators leading the way in the various emerging aviation technologies we plan to shed a bright light on the industry” said Sharon Rossmark, CEO of Women and Drones.
“Monumental Access is excited to highlight the excellence achieved by women in the field of emerging aviation technologies. By capturing their stories through the lens of a camera everyone will have an opportunity to have a front-row seat alongside these amazing women” said Monte Chambers, founder and CEO of Monumental Access.
Filming started in May with the Disaster Response Workshop hosted by Dr. Robin Murphy at Texas A&M and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. The project captured the experiences of the participants and facilitators and shared a powerful message about the importance of this type of training for women. “Ultimately, my desired outcome for filming in the Disaster Response Workshop will be to create engaging content for viewers unfamiliar with the drone sector of the aviation industry. By raising awareness to the public, these modern-day hidden figures will be in the spotlight” Chambers added.
The next round of filming will take place at Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas, Sept 6-8, 2022. In addition to the onsite filming, Commercial UAV Expo offers a robust conference program delivering practical, actionable education. Sessions include a panel on Women Behind the Drone Revolution, hosted by DroneTalks, featuring inspirational women from around the world as they share career path stories, and deliver actionable insight based on their successes, key challenges, important learnings, and their current activities in the industry. Additional programming includes deep dive vertical industry sessions for professionals in construction, drone delivery, energy & utilities, forestry & agriculture, infrastructure & transportation, mining & aggregates, security, and surveying & mapping. Industry Update Sessions provide up-to-the-minute information on topics that affect everyone in UAS, such as AAM, BVLOS, and autonomy.
Commercial UAV Expo, presented by Commercial UAV News, is an international conference and expo exclusively focused on commercial UAS integration and operation covering industries including Construction; Drone Delivery; Energy & Utilities; Forestry & Agriculture; Infrastructure & Transportation; Mining & Aggregates; Public Safety & Emergency Services; Security; and Surveying & Mapping. It takes place September 6 – 8, 2022 at Caesars Forum, Las Vegas NV. For more information, visit www.expouav.com.
Commercial UAV Expo is produced by Diversified Communications’ technology portfolio which also includes Commercial UAV News; Geo Week, Geo Week Newsletter, 3D Technology Newsletter, AEC Innovations Newsletter, Geo Business (UK) and Digital Construction Week (UK).
About Women and Drones:
Women And Drones is the leading membership organization dedicated to driving excellence in the uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry by advocating for female participation in this dynamic segment of the global economy. We partner with companies committed to an inclusive culture where women can thrive. Our educational programs range from kindergarten to career in efforts to balance the gender equation in the industry now, as well as for the future of flight.
About Monumental Access
Monumental Access focuses on producing quality media by creating content, capturing the heartfelt story, and connecting with community stakeholders. With the nationwide demand for videographers, Monumental Access developed a unique market for governmental, non-profit, and corporate companies. What started off as a dream during the 2020 Global pandemic, has transitioned into a reality in detailing the important moments of our clients through the lens of a camera. Combined with unique storytelling and professionalism, Monumental Access connects the hearts and attention of many across the country with its interviews, commercials, and documentaries! As a result, Monumental Access is one of the most creative media companies in the Saint Louis, MO area.
Prior to this summer, Patricia Kennedy had never been to the Northwest Territories. But for the past five weeks, she’s been living in Norman Wells, NWT, teaching STEM to youth.
Each day, she heads to camp to run activities with groups ranging in age from four to 16. They work on engineering design builds, coding activities and learn about chemistry and biology. The programs are also visited by local Indigenous knowledge holders or elders, who help Indigenous youth make connections to the STEM that already exists in their own communities.
“I’ve learned so much,” says Ms. Kennedy, who is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa studying engineering and computer science. “It’s really opened my eyes, and it’s been an amazing experience.”
The STEM camp is an initiative run by Actua, a national organization that works to engage youth across the country with science and technology programs.
With special emphasis on bridging the “digital divide,” Actua runs programs focused on communities underrepresented in STEM fields. These include their National Girls Program, Indigenous Youth in STEM (InSTEM) Program and Black Youth in STEM Program.
“STEM equity means creating an environment, creating a space for youth regardless of their gender, regardless of their socio-economic status,” says Jennifer Ladipo, national program manager at Actua. “Creating that sense of fun and magic for all kids, all youth, all genders, all races, is really what STEM equity means to me.”
Bridging the ‘digital divide’
Jennifer Flanagan is the CEO of Actua and has been involved since she helped start a University of New Brunswick chapter more than 20 years ago.
“What has long been understood by us at Actua is that there are deep inequities in access to education writ large,” she says. “Certainly in access to experiences that enrich that education or build skills outside of that education.”
Ms. Flanagan notes that “huge improvements” have been made, such as some university programs achieving equal participation of women. However, she says that in engaging with young girls through Actua’s initiatives, the organization encounters ongoing challenges.
“Stereotypes are unfortunately alive and well,” she says. “We’re still dealing with a significant amount of systemic barriers that impact girls and young women both in the work force – which we hear about all the time – but also just in their daily lives.”
An engineer by profession, Ms. Ladipo has been committed to equity since early in her career. While in university, she started an initiative called The STEM Girl in the hopes of empowering young girls: “I started writing children’s books, trying to encourage young girls to see fascination in STEM and have role models, especially at very young ages.”
Actua STEM programs are often facilitated by youth, for youth, Ms. Ladipo says, such as the summer camps run by undergraduate students such as Ms. Kennedy.
“[It’s] giving [young people] the chance to see role models that look like them, and see people and talk to people that might have the same experiences as them,” Ms. Ladipo says. “To show them that their own experiences are valuable, that they are needed.”
Ms. Flanagan stresses the need for programs like these, now more than ever, particularly considering the number of women who left the work force through the pandemic.
“We worry that will continue to slide [women’s] progress backwards,” she says. “So this work has never before been so important to our economy.”
Science as part of everyday life
Recently, Ms. Kennedy went on a field trip with her campers during their module on plants and medicine. They gathered plants from local fields, then learned from an Indigenous knowledge holder about the different uses for those plants.
“I find a lot of the time in school, STEM concepts are very abstract, and they’re not really related to things in your community or things you might be interested in,” says Ms. Kennedy. “Showing them that STEM can be fun and interesting and relevant to their lives is important at any age.”
By developing programs in partnership with communities, Actua is able to connect lessons to what youth might already see in their own lives, Ms. Flanagan says. “In the case of our Northern outreach programs, [it’s] 20-plus years that we have been working with Northern and Inuit communities.”
Actua has grown over the years, with 1,000 undergraduate students and 350,000 youth participating in the organization’s programs. This has only been possible, Ms. Flanagan says, through a “hyper-local” focus.
“Reflecting the realities of communities is so important to us. We not only build the skills, but we show [youth] how much opportunity exists in their own communities for future engagement,” she says.
“Not only are they a part of science, but science is literally their everyday lives.”
Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.
“Let’s start by establishing that hi-tech is really the best place for women,” began Dorit Dor, Chief Product Officer for Check Point, during a panel at Tuesday night’s first inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit from The Jerusalem Post and WE (Women’s Entrepreneurship). During the event, executives from throughout the hi-tech industry gathered to share their knowledge and experience with female entrepreneurs across the country.
Dor elaborated on the juxtaposition between the many good opportunities for women in hi-tech and the relative lack of their presence in the sector. “As well as learning technology, it’s the best opportunity for getting paid,” she said. “It’s the best opportunity for life balance because you could work from home in all the hi-tech industry, it’s the best for every reason you could think of to work in high tech – and still very few select this.”
“We have an issue,” she continued, and explained why she believes the current branding of hi-tech is repulsive for diverse groups of workers. “For example, in cyber, you wear a hoodie and drink a lot of coke, or the men doing it in high school are not socially acceptable,” she said. These impressions make women fearful that they wouldn’t be socially accepted if they were in the industry, Dor suggested.
Besides problematic branding, the hi-tech industry offers several other hurdles for women, explained Dor, including the requirement to “opt in” in order to achieve success and the need to loudly self-advocate for themselves. “Usually, women don’t do this very well,” she said.
In an effort to correct these issues, Check Point runs initiatives helping young kids choose hi-tech and mentoring women to speak up for themselves and pursue promotion. “In the end, if you had a whole list of [mid-level employees] that are women, maybe that would help as well,” she said.
“Cyber security is obviously one of the biggest trends in the Israeli eco-system, as attackers become more sophisticated, so will our solutions be more effective and comprehensive,” said Badian.
“Half of all engineers in Microsoft Israel R&D are focused on cyber security products and bring innovation to that field, so we can be prepared for the threats of the future,” she added.
“Another big trend we see on the rise is climate tech, I’m confident we will see the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit tackle this important issue and we hope to see more and more technological solutions for what might be one of the biggest challenges facing us all,” she concluded.
Investment in women isn’t doing well
Yifat Oron is the senior managing director at Blackstone, a hi-tech investment firm with $941 billion in assets under management. She elaborated on the current shortage of investment in female entrepreneurs, which isn’t doing gangbusters, to say the least.
“$330b. invested in tech by VCs last year – what’s the percentage invested in women entrepreneurs? Two percent,” Oron remarked. “A little less bad is the amount of money invested in companies that have women in the founding team: 16%. It’s still very bad.”
By means of explanation, Oron indicated that the lack of investment in women stems from a lack of female investors.
“The statistics are not glamorous at all. It’s [something like] 15% of general partners [GPs] are women,” she said, while acknowledging that even as little as 10 years ago, these numbers wouldn’t be as “high” – in this sense, some progress has been made. Regardless, she pointed out, “If we’re not going to have GPs that are women, we’re not going to have entrepreneurs that are women.”
To help female entrepreneurship along, Oron explained that “Blackstone – as did most older investment firms – had to do some work to elevate the number of women investors, because this is a very much a men-led business.”
As such, Blackstone has made an effort to train and hire women, launch mentorship programs and invest in hi-tech awareness in high schools. These efforts have been fairly effective.
“Half of our incoming class this year of new employees are women; hopefully most of them are going to stay throughout their careers with us,” Oron said. Last year, Blackstone invested $10b. in women-led companies.
These successes are not just happenstance, however.
“It’s not happening just because it’s happening,” noted Oron. “We’re doing a lot of work, and everybody here who is employing people needs to take charge and make sure they spend a lot of energy on that as well.”
She concluded with a note regarding the importance of female representation in the business hierarchy. “If you want to be able to do the right thing, you have to have a well-balanced leadership,” she said.
“Not necessarily just CEOs; you have to have a lot of women represented well across every single layer of the organization. Research has shown that heterogeneous leadership and boards perform better than homogeneous ones. It’s pretty simple.”
Click here to read the full article on The Jerusalem Post.
A rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin carried its fifth group of passengers to the edge of space, including the first-ever Mexican-born woman to make such a journey.
The 60-foot-tall suborbital rocket took off from Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas at 9:26am ET, vaulting a group of six people to more than 62 miles above the Earth’s surface — which is widely deemed to make the boundary of outer space — and giving them a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting to landing.
Most of the passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats. But Katya Echazarreta, an engineer and science communicator from Guadalajara, Mexico, was selected by a nonprofit called Space for Humanity to join this mission from a pool of thousands of applicants. The organization’s goal is to send “exceptional leaders” to space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon frequently reported by astronauts who say that viewing the Earth from space give them a profound shift in perspective.
Echazarreta told CNN Business that she experienced that overview effect “in my own way.”
“Looking down and seeing how everyone is down there, all of our past, all of our mistakes, all of our obstacles, everything — everything is there,” she said. “And the only thing I could think of when I came back down was that I need people to see this. I need Latinas to see this. And I think that it just completely reinforced my mission to continue getting primarily women and people of color up to space and doing whatever it is they want to do.”
Echazarreta is the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space and the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who joined one of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in 1985.
She moved to the United States with her family at the age of seven, and she recalls being overwhelmed in a new place where she didn’t speak the language, and a teacher warned her she might have to be held back.
“It just really fueled me and I think ever since then, ever since the third grade, I kind of just went off and have not stopped,” Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.
When she was 17 and 18, Echazarreta said she was also the main breadwinner for her family on a McDonald’s salary.
“I had sometimes up to four [jobs] at the same time, just to try to get through college because it was really important for me,” she said.
These days, Echazarreta is working on her master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also boasts a following of more than 330,000 users on TikTok, hosts a science-focused YouTube series and is a presenter on the weekend CBS show “Mission Unstoppable.”
Space for Humanity — which was founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, a space investor who recently joined a Blue Origin flight himself — chose her for her impressive contributions. “We were looking for some like people who were leaders in their communities, who have a sphere of influence; people who are doing really great work in the world already, and people who are passionate about whatever that is,” Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit’s executive director, told CNN Business.
The film, which is scheduled to open on Nov. 23, will follow three generations of a family of explorers and take viewers “to a place of infinite mystery unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” according to a trailer released by the studio earlier this month.
Several Hollywood powerhouses have been confirmed as part of the voice cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, Dennis Quaid and Jaboukie Young-White.
On Friday, Disney screened three sequences from the film at the 2022 Annecy International Animation Film Festival, one of the world’s most important festivals for the film animation industry that takes place in the city of Annecy, in southeast France.
In one of them, Ethan (Young-White) flirts with a boy named Diazo in front of his friends, who tease him in a friendly way.
His father, Searcher Clade (Gyllenhaal), later joins in and embarrasses him in “an overeager show of acceptance,” as the scene is described by Variety.
Emmy Award-winning producer Matthieu Saghezchi, who also saw the sequence, wrote on Twitter that the scene is “very endearing” and it’s “treated as the most natural thing in the world.”
“The scene describes the son being very shy in front of his boy crush, and his dad comes in and says “so nice to meet you! my son talks about you all the time” and further embarrasses his son,” Saghezchi wrote. “Very cute.”
The refreshing nod to inclusivity comes as “Lightyear,” the much-anticipated “Toy Story” spinoff, was reportedly banned in 14 countries over a brief same-sex kiss.
The Disney-Pixar computer-animated adventure film starring Chris Evans as the voice of Buzz Lightyear features a kiss between Alisha, voiced by the actress Uzo Aduba, and her wife Kiko.
On Monday, the United Arab Emirates announced that the film would not be shown in the country “due to its violation of the country’s media standards.”
According to Reuters, at least 13 other countries in Asia and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and Lebanon, have also banned the film.
“Lightyear,” which opens in 4,200 North American theaters this weekend, is expected to make between $70 million and $80 million.
Click here to read the full article on Love B Scott.
When you think of futurism, you probably don’t think of the payroll company ADP—but that’s where Giselle Mota works as the company’s principal consultant on the “future of work.” Mota, who has given a Ted Talk(Opens in a new window) and has written(Opens in a new window) for Forbes, is committed to bringing more inclusion and access to the Web3 and metaverse spaces. She’s also been working on a side project called Unhidden, which will provide disabled people with accurate avatars, so they’ll have the option to remain themselves in the metaverse and across Web3.
To See and Be Seen
The goal of Unhidden is to encourage tech companies to be more inclusive, particularly of people with disabilities. The project has launched and already has a partnership with the Wanderland(Opens in a new window) app, which will feature Unhidden avatars through its mixed-reality(Opens in a new window) platform at the VivaTech Conference in Paris and the DisabilityIN Conference in Dallas. The first 12 avatars will come out this summer with Mota, Dr. Tiffany Jana, Brandon Farstein, Tiffany Yu, and other global figures representing disability inclusion.
The above array of individuals is known as the NFTY Collective(Opens in a new window). Its members hail from countries including America, the UK, and Australia, and the collective represents a spectrum of disabilities, ranging from the invisible type, such as bipolar and other forms of neurodiversity, to the more visible, including hypoplasia and dwarfism.
Hypoplasia causes the underdevelopment of an organ or tissue. For Isaac Harvey, the disease manifested by leaving him with no arms and short legs. Harvey uses a wheelchair and is the president of Wheels for Wheelchairs, along with being a video editor. He got involved with Unhidden after being approached by its co-creator along with Mota, Victoria Jenkins, who is an inclusive fashion designer.
Mayim Bialik, best known as the current host of Jeopardy! and as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in the smash series The Big Bang Theory, is an honest-to-goodness Renaissance woman.
She’s a neuroscientist, a mother, an animal rights activist and mental health advocate.
An author, actor, game show host and, with the release this spring of As They Made Us, a movie director.
And she’s not done yet.
The Renaissance Woman
In the tradition of Renaissance women from all eras, Bialik is ever diversifying her ambitions, her skill-set, her scope. They’re grounded in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Bialik said she didn’t take to science until her teens, when a tutor helped her build a model of a cell out of Styrofoam.
“I could touch that Styrofoam cell,” she told ScienceNewsforStudents. “It was just amazing. It was amazing that it thrilled me the way looking at art thrilled me.”
Nowadays, she added, “I try to put a positive face on STEM and a female face in STEM.”
Bialik, 46, who is modern Orthodox Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, earned a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and a doctor of philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA. Her dissertation was titled, “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome.” We’ll break that down later.
She started her acting career as a teen, with roles in Pumpkinhead and Beaches, as well as guest appearances on The Facts of Life, Beauty and the Beast and Webster. In 1994, she earned a major role in Woody Allen’s comedy film, Don’t Drink the Water. She also played the title character of the NBC sitcom, Blossom.
She worked steadily in Hollywood for the next decade before landing her role on The Big Bang Theory, in which she played Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler. She was nominated for Emmy awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2015 and 2017.
In 2021, it was announced that Bialik would host the primetime version of Jeopardy! After Mike Richards stepped down from hosting the syndicated version of the show, Bialik started hosting that version, too, sharing duties with Ken Jennings. Moving forward, it’s unclear how producers will handle the hosting situation, but Bialik said it’s a joy working on the show.
“One of my biggest challenges is I’m so impressed that people know the answers that they’ve asked me to tone down how excited I am when people get them right, which I think is a great note to get,” she told DailyBeast.
Advancing STEAM Through Activism
She also hosts a podcast, Mayim Bialik’sBreakdown, that focuses on debunking the misconceptions surrounding mental health and neurodivergence with the help of friends, guest experts and media personalities.
Bialik is a vegan and a founding member of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, a Jewish organization that advocates for the ethical treatment of animals.
Another cause close to her heart is increasing opportunities for girls and women to pursue STEAM educations and careers.
“It’s an incredibly enlightening way to view the world once you’ve been trained in STEM,” Bialik has said. “It’s a smart career choice, and it’s a creative and exciting lifestyle to be a scientist.”
Bialik has written books — such as Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular — geared toward empowering girls and women, partnered with toy companies to create STEAM-friendly toys for girls and teamed with DeVry University and the HerWorld Initiative to get high school girls excited about STEAM, among other ventures.
“I love encouraging young women to embrace the sciences,” she has said.
What’s her advice to parents and counselors?
“Educate ourselves by using the resources in libraries and online to find new ways to understand our world. Also, encouraging kids to see the hidden STEM opportunities all around them. When we cook or bake, it’s math and chemistry. When we observe weather patterns or even changes in our body, these are all wonders of the STEM awareness kids naturally have!”
Bucking the Stereotypes
Remember her dissertation? In case you scientists, or budding scientists, are wondering what “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome” means, here’s a breakdown: Abstract Prader–Willi Syndrome is a neurogenetic disorder that causes obesity. The hypothalamus regulates aspects of the nervous system. “Satiety” refers to satiated, or absence of hunger. So Bialik was intrigued by the links between the nervous system, consumption behaviors and obesity in those who deal with Prader–Willi Syndrome.
A mouthful, for sure. But interesting, yes?
Bialik, it seems, bucks easy, simplistic stereotypes, intersecting her social, emotional passions and strengths with the two roles she’s most famous for: actor and scientist.
Has the film she’s directed furthered that tendency? That’s up to viewers to decide, as is a thumbs-up-or-down.
The movie centers on a divorced mother juggling her family’s needs and her own quest for love. Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen and Simon Helberg star.
“It’s very vulnerable,” she told TV and radio host Ryan Seacrest. “It’s not an autobiography, but it’s totally things that are based on my life and some things did happen and other things didn’t and… here we go!”
Here’s a passage from film critic Christy Lemire’s review in RogerEbert.com: “As They Made Us is most effective in its gentle, intimate, everyday moments, and Bialik mercifully refrains from melodrama…”
Lemire continues, saying the film “is clearly a personal debut effort for Bialik, but she shows enough confidence behind the camera to make you curious about whatever other stories she has to tell.”
Which provokes, for Bialik fans, a pressing question: What’s her next chapter?
At age 9, Nalleli Cobo was experiencing asthma, body spasms, heart palpitations and nosebleeds so severe she needed to sleep in a chair to prevent herself from choking on her own blood.
Across the street from her family’s apartment in University Park in South Central Los Angeles was an oil extraction site owned by Allenco Energy that was spewing fumes into the air and the community around her.
After speaking with neighbors facing similar symptoms, she and her family began to mobilize with their community, suspecting that was making them sick. They created the People Not Pozos (People Not Oil Wells) campaign. At 9 years old, Cobo was designated the campaign’s spokesperson, marking the start of her activism and organizing career.
In March 2020, Cobo, the co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, helped lead the group to permanently shut down the Allenco Energy oil drilling site that she and others in the community said caused serious health issues for them. She also helped convince the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to unanimously vote to ban new oil exploration and phase out existing sites in Los Angeles.
After pressure from the community and scrutiny from elected officials, Allenco Energy agreed to suspend operations in 2013. The site was permanently shut down in 2020, and the company was charged in connection with state and local environmental health and safety regulations. There are ongoing issues around cleaning and plugging up the oil wells.
Cobo co-founded the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition in 2015 to bolster efforts against oil sites and work toward phasing them out across the city.
That year, the youth group sued the city of Los Angeles, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and environmental racism. The suit was settled after the city implemented new drilling application requirements.
Cobo, now 21, was recognized Wednesday for the environmental justice work that has spanned more than half her life. She received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded annually to individuals from six regions: Europe, Asia, Africa, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.
“I did not want to answer the phone because it was an unknown number,” Cobo, who was getting bubble tea when she received the call about the prize, told NBC News in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “I didn’t even know I was nominated. I started crying.”
During the 1920s, Los Angeles was one of the world’s largest urban oil-exporting regions. More than 20,000 active, idle, or abandoned oil wells still reside in the county, and about one-third of residents live less than a mile from an active oil site.
Studies have shown that living near oil and gas wells increases exposure to air pollution, with nearby communities facing environmental and health risks including preterm birth, asthma and heart disease.