Curbing COVID: How one Nine-Year-Old is Protecting His Country
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Stephen Wamukota demonstrating the water pump

Stephen Wamukota, a nine-year-old boy living in Mukwa Village in Kenya, has just received a presidential award for his latest invention, set to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While watching television one day, Stephen came across a program that was informing its viewers how they can prevent themselves from spreading the virus. From this program, Stephen learned of the importance of regular handwashing.

While there are currently no cases of the virus in Stephen’s hometown, Kenya has experienced about 2,000 cases of the coronavirus, with 69 of those cases resulting in death, and the virus still has a possibility of spreading to Stephen’s village.

To keep himself and those in his community safe, Stephen decided to build a no-touch handwashing machine. Made primarily from a wooden window frame and a bucket, Stephen’s device is simple yet effective. Rather than touching the nozzle that has been touched by many others in the community, Stephen’s machine is powered by a foot pedal that releases the handwashing water from a bucket, allowing for others to wash their hands with little contamination. His father, James Wamukota, helped Stephen make the device.

Now having produced two of these machines and aspiring to build more, Stephen has received Kenya’s Presidential Order of Service Award and was promised a scholarship from his country’s governor, which Stephen hopes to use to become an engineer.

 

NASA astronaut has a message for Latinx STEM students: ‘We need you’
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Ellen Ochoa training with NASA

By Penelope Lopez of ABC 

Astronaut Ellen Ochoa has a message for the next generation of Latinx students who are aspiring to work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields: “We need you.”

“We need your minds. We need your creativity,” she told ABC News.

Ochoa, a first generation Mexican-American, made history in the Latinx community as NASA’s first Hispanic astronaut. She took her first space flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993. She was also the first Hispanic director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and spent nearly 1,000 hours in space during four shuttle missions.

As the chair of the National Science Board, Ochoa is constantly championing a more inclusive work environment.

“Look at the demographics of our country. They are changing … we have to involve the people in our country. And increasingly, of course, that is people of some kind of Latino or Hispanic heritage,” she said.

For young Latinx students, working in the STEM fields is no longer something out of reach.

“STEM fields offer a unique opportunity to change the world, one person at a time,” said India Carranza, a first generation Puerto Rican and Salvadorian high school junior who aspires to be a physiotherapist. “And being able to help people through their paths and different journeys is one of the unique opportunities of the STEM field.”

Today, Latinx individuals make up nearly 20% of the U.S population and yet just 7% of the STEM workforce.

Continue to ABC News to read the full article 

How LGBT+ scientists would like to be included and welcomed in STEM workplaces
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A group of diverse scientists studying a skeleton

‘Invisible’: that is how many scientists from sexual and gender minorities (LGBT+) describe their status at their institution, laboratory, classroom or office.

Sexual orientation and sexual and gender identity are not common topics of conversation in many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workplaces, and these scientists argue that they should be. They say that cloaking an important part of their identity at work can have dangerous consequences for mental health and career advancement, both for individual scientists and for the disciplines that could drive them away.

Surveys back up this sense of invisibility. Beliefs that being cisgender and hetero-sexual are the default or ‘normal’ modes — known as cis-heteronormative assumptions — often silence conversations about the wide spectrum of sexual and gender identities1. In a 2019 survey of more than 1,000 UK-based physical scientists, nearly 30% of LGBT+ scientists and half of transgender scientists said that they had considered leaving their workplace because of an unfriendly or hostile climate or because of discrimination2. And nearly 20% of LGBT+ chemists and 32% of transgender and non-binary scientists across all disciplines had experienced exclusionary, offensive or harassing behaviour at work in the previous year. About half of the respondents agree that there is an overall lack of awareness of LGBT+ issues in the workplace. And a 2016 study found that LGBT+ undergraduate students are 7% less likely to be retained in STEM fields than are their non-LGBT+ counterparts3.

Many institutions and funding agencies do not collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, the US National Science Foundation is still considering whether it should include such questions in its Survey of Earned Doctorates, years after announcing it intended to test the feasibility of doing so.

Nature spoke to six LGBT+ academics about the effects on their careers of fighting prejudice, assumptions and bias; how colleagues can be effective allies and advocates; and what policies institutions could have to make STEM workplaces more inclusive.

Hontas Farmer: Break with Convention

Hontas Farmer (she) is a Black, transgender theoretical physicist and a lecturer at Elmhurst University in Illinois.

I haven’t followed a conventional academic career path. Between the ages of 18 and 33, I took out staggering amounts of government and private student loans to get my undergraduate and master’s degrees in physics and, like many trans women my age, supported myself with sex work. We do that to survive.

Scientists should be aware that colleagues can have vastly different backgrounds and experiences. I’m 40 now, and still in debt. For now, I can make it as an adjunct — a part-time, contract faculty member — in physics, while I research theories to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics on the side. I’m also a part of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a volunteer-powered collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency researching gravitational waves. I don’t get paid for this work.

If I weren’t so driven, I might have quit physics and returned to being a sex worker. Or I might be dead: many trans women of colour wind up dead before the age of 35. Given that working as an adjunct was financially precarious even before the pandemic, I might still go back to my earlier job. The ability to pay your bills can determine whether or not you have a career in science.

Professors also help to shape your career path. Allies should offer interested students similar academic and professional opportunities, irrespective of their gender identities or backgrounds. I could not get the recommendation letter that I needed to apply for a PhD programme. The professor said that they did not think I could get a job. “You’re too eccentric to be you, and be a physicist — you have to be overwhelmingly great, and you’re not,” they told me.

That made me angry at the time, but now I think in some ways they were right. Not everyone gets to be a full-time tenure-track professor, especially in today’s job market. But I still wish that I’d had the option to get the degree.

I’ve given up on pursuing a PhD, but I still get to do work similar to that of PhD physicists. When I applied to join LISA, they accepted me because of my research in general relativity. And they treat me just like anybody else. That is the most inclusive thing allies can do.

Teaching has been less ideal. I wish I could have had realistic and frank discussions with some of my former school administrators and colleagues about what I faced as a trans faculty member. For example, when I asked questions to engage my classes, some students complained to the dean’s office that I did not know the material. They thought I was asking them questions because I needed their help solving the equations. I wish the school had expressed more confidence in my qualifications — why they hired me in the first place — when they addressed the students’ concerns. Supportive employers show respect for your work and credentials.

In academia, people often assume that all students are open-minded and accepting. Not everyone under the age of 25 is liberal. Some students expect to see an LGBT+ person teaching gender studies or social work, but not Newton’s laws. These days, students have a lot of power over faculty members, whose part-time numbers are increasing, through their evaluations. If too few students sign up for your classes, the course gets cancelled and you don’t have a job. This is why it is so important for institutions to make space for conversations about how students’ biases can affect LGBT+ teachers.

This August, I started teaching at Elmhurst University in Illinois, in a small community that I’ve found supportive despite its politically conservative reputation. It’s sort of counterintuitive, but I’m confident that a conservative school will stand behind me, because they hired me for my credentials. Be open to finding acceptance anywhere.

Continue to Nature.com to read the full article.

Raising Our Voices for Diversity in the Geosciences
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A geologist working underground

By Lucila Houttuijn Bloemendaal, Katarena Matos, Kendra Walters, and Aditi Sengupta

Almost 50 years ago, in June 1972, attendees at the First National Conference on Minority Participation in Earth Sciences and Mineral Engineering [Gillette and Gillette, 1972] held one of the first formal discussions on the lack of diversity in the geosciences.

Unfortunately, despite the many conversations since then addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the geosciences still face many of the problems cited in that meeting. These problems include, for example, difficulty recruiting youth from marginalized groups into a field that is often hostile to them and scientists from underrepresented backgrounds routinely needing to go above and beyond their peers to prove their professional value and right to belong.

Clearly, drafting statements in support of diversity—as many institutions have done—is not enough to effect change in the geosciences. Individuals and institutions must engage deeply and with a long-term mindset to ensure sustainable efforts that translate to real, personal success for geoscientists from a diversity of backgrounds. In addition, the community must continue to create spaces for conversations that highlight and share best practices focused on improving DEI.

As members of AGU’s Voices for Science 2019 cohort, we learned several effective methods of science communication. For example, we learned that by sharing lessons learned and blueprints for action with broader audiences, we can more effectively use our voices and power to demand real, tangible goals to make the geosciences inclusive and accessible. From among the 2019 cohort, a small team of scientists from a variety of fields and career stages thus convened a town hall at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2019 to discuss improving DEI. At the town hall, titled “Power of Science Lies in Its Diverse Voices,” panelists highlighted their approaches and work to increase diversity in the geosciences for an audience of roughly 100 attendees.

To make the town hall an example of a diverse event, invited panelists represented a wide array of fields, nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and career paths and stages. Below, we highlight the advice and work of the panelists, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Sujata Emani, Heather Handley, Tamara Marcus, Bahareh Sorouri, and Robert Ulrich, to provide avenues for readers to promote diversity, incentivize DEI work, and enact change in their own fields, institutions, and lives.

Continue on to EOS: Science News by AGU to read the full article.

2 Scientists Awarded Nobel Prize In Chemistry For Genome Editing Research
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Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna at an event together

By Nell Greenfield Boyce and Mark Katkov

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded this year to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for their work on “genetic scissors” that can cut DNA at a precise location, allowing scientists to make specific changes to specific genes.

“This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true,” the Nobel Committee said in announcing the prize.

Already, doctors have used the technology to experimentally treat sickle cell disease, with promising results.

While some research advances take decades for people to fully appreciate how transformative they are, that wasn’t the case for this new tool, known as CRISPR-Cas9.

“Once in a long time, an advance comes along that utterly transforms an entire field and does so very rapidly,” says Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, which has long supported Doudna’s research. “You cannot walk into a molecular biology laboratory today, working on virtually any organism, where CRISPR-Cas9 is not playing a role in the ability to understand how life works and how disease happens. It’s just that powerful.”

Since scientific papers were published in 2011 and 2012 describing the work, Charpentier says people had repeatedly suggested to her that it was worthy of a Nobel Prize.

“It was indeed mentioned to me a number of times, maybe more than what I would have liked, that one day this so-called discovery may be awarded the Nobel Prize,” Charpentier said in a press briefing.

Still, even after winning other big awards, she says, that possibility didn’t completely hit her until Goran K. Hansson, the secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, called to tell her the news.

“I was very emotional, I have to say,” says Charpentier, who added that she had been told that winning a Nobel is always a big surprise and feels unreal. “Obviously, it’s real, so I have to get used to it now.”

There’s been an ongoing feud, including a fight over lucrative patents, over who deserves the most credit for the development of CRISPR-Cas9.

“It’s a big field and there’s a lot of good science being done in this field. But we have decided this year to award the prize to Charpentier and Doudna, and I can only say that,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, when asked if the committee had considered including anyone else in the prize.

Continue on to NPR to read the complete article.

Photo Credit: Peter Barreras/Invision/AP and NPR

How Engineers are Contributing to the COVID-19 Fight
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software engineers hands typing on keyboard with abstract technology background

By Trevor English

Around the world, there are a plethora of engineers, physicists, scientists, and otherwise just normal people making superhuman efforts at fighting back against COVID-19. From 3D printed masks to mechanical ventilators, the STEAM community is putting up a solid fight.

Let’s take a look at a few of the top engineering projects:

3D Printed Solutions

With 3D printing practically in the mainstream, it’s been a primary tool for engineering to fight against the coronavirus. One notable project is the NanoHack Mask. While there have been a number of 3D printed masks, this mask design offers up versatility in just what you use for the air filtering portion.

Designed specifically for use with a polypropylene filter material to fit in the bottom, it can provide filtration for up to 96.4 percent of microorganisms the size of one micron and 89.5 percent of microorganisms of .02 microns.

Notably though, due to the way that the interface of the mask was designed, it allows for you to replace the filter material with any other found material if you don’t have access to the specific filter required.

Source: Copper3D

Robotic Solutions

While there have been a plethora of companies and individuals that have hacked robots to create ventilators for seriously ill patients, we’re going to focus on another robotic innovation helping patients’ well-being: Robot doctors.

Researchers at Chulalongkorn University have rolled out three new telemedicine robots that can aid the doctor-patient relationship while sparing the regular human interaction. The robots can easily be used by hospital staff to communicate with COVID-19 patients remotely.

The robots were initially designed by the university team to help care for patients that were recovering from strokes, but they are now being repurposed to supply world-class leading medical care during a time when intense quarantine and isolation is needed.

These robots not only maintain a strict barrier between doctor and patient, but they also help one doctor quickly and easily talk with multiple patients. Seeing multiple patients after one another in hospitals often requires stripping and reapplying medical garb, whereas telemedicine robots can easily avoid that.

The robots are capable of assessing the patients’ conditions as well as helping the medical staff to easily track the patients’ symptoms.

Sanitation Solutions

Sanitation has become of a big concern in the overcrowded medical systems where coronavirus outbreaks are peaking. In many places, there is a serious deficit in medical supplies that is forcing doctors and nurses to reuse their surgical masks.

This presents a need for a device that can quickly and easily disinfect surgical masks with a 100 percent success rate. That is exactly what Prescientx, a company located in Ontario, Canada, has tried to create.

They have engineered a device that can disinfect N95 masks utilizing ultraviolet, or UV light. The device is situated overtop of the masks and a UV-C light is shone on the mask at different angles for differing amounts of time. That said, it doesn’t take very long to disinfect just one mask. In fact, the device, called the Terminator CoV, can disinfect up to 500 masks per hour. This can be life-changing for medical staff across the world as they battle the need for safe and clean protective gear.

The machine isn’t just specific to one kind of N95 mask, either. Thanks to the way that it is built, it works practically universally with a variety of mask types and sizes. The masks are driven through a reflective aluminum tunnel for disinfection. While in this tunnel the UV-C light is shone, being sure to hit the masks at all angles, as UV light rays cannot pass through the N95 grade mask material.

How You Can Get Involved

At the end of the day, we’re all in this fight together as we engineer against the coronavirus. Sharing ideas and collaborating is the first step. Check out our map that showcases the most notable engineering contributions to fighting the COVID-19, as well as the latest and most accurate statistics, at interestingengineering.com

Source: https://interestingengineering.com/how-engineers-are-contributing-to-the-fight-against-the-outbreak

Empowering Women in STEM at Stanford
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Stanford women in stem pose together with arms around each other shoulders smiling

By Taylor Kubota

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.”

Elevating Others

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.”

Source:  https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/02/recognizing-empowering-women-stem/

What the World Needs Right Now
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Dr. Sanjay Gupta

by Kat Castagnoli – Editor, Diversity in STEAM Magazine

While there are many uncertainties in our current coronavirus climate, there’s one thing that’s for sure: The focus on STEAM has never been more crucial. Across the globe, scientists, engineers, medical professionals and corporate innovators are working on everything from researching and testing for a viable COVID-19 vaccine to printing 3D face masks to creating robots that can act as ventilators and communicate with infected patients.

The united efforts of the STEAM community to keep us safe and healthy and get us closer to a future without face masks or quarantine is pivotal.

In the wake of so much data, information and opinion on the pandemic, it’s difficult to discern fact from fiction. On the frontlines as a ‘beacon of truth’ is our cover story and 2020 Person of the Year—Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This highly respected neurosurgeon and medical correspondent has been providing credible information on COVID-19 through his platform on CNN, on his podcast titled, Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction, and even on Sesame Street to
answer children’s questions and concerns. Read more about Dr. Gupta and his thoughts on the race to find a vaccine on page 22.

It only makes sense that careers in healthcare are more in demand than ever page 12, that it’s important to create a healthy workspace at home page 30 and keeping your team’s morale up is significant page 40 during these difficult times. Staying the course on diversity and inclusion is just as crucial, as our interview with the National Society of Black Engineers’ Executive Director Dr. Karl Reid reflects page 66.

By now, many of us are wondering when we are going to defeat this invisible enemy and resume normal life. While the answer is yet unknown, Dr. Gupta says it best: “We don’t know when it’s going to be over—I wish we did, but that’s the honest answer. But it is going to be over. It’s not going to last forever.” Stay positive and stay safe.

Microsoft Offers 25 Million People New Digital Skills to Accelerate Economic Recovery
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Woman working on laptop in her home office

Microsoft Corp. recently announced a new global skills initiative aimed at bringing more digital skills to 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year.

The announcement comes in response to the global economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Expanded access to digital skills is an important step in accelerating economic recovery, especially for the people hardest hit by job losses.

This initiative, detailed on the Official Microsoft Blog, includes immediate steps to help those looking to reskill and pursue an in-demand job and brings together every part of the company, combining existing and new resources from LinkedIn, GitHub and Microsoft.

This includes:

  • The use of data to identify in-demand jobs and the skills needed to fill them.
  • Free access to learning paths and content to help people develop the skills these positions require.
  • Low-cost certifications and free job-seeking tools to help people who develop these skills pursue new jobs.

This is a comprehensive technology initiative that will build on data and digital technology. It starts with data on jobs and skills from the LinkedIn Economic Graph. It provides free access to content in LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab, and couples those with Microsoft Certifications and LinkedIn job seeking tools. These resources can all be accessed at a central location, opportunity.linkedin.com, and will be broadly available online in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish.

In addition, Microsoft is backing the effort with $20 million in cash grants to help nonprofit organizations worldwide assist the people who need it most. One-quarter of this total, or $5 million, will be provided in cash grants to community-based nonprofit organizations that are led by and serve communities of color in the United States. The company is also pledging to make stronger data and analytics—including data from the LinkedIn Economic Graph—available to governments around the world so they can better assess local economic needs.

Microsoft also announced it is creating a new learning app in Microsoft Teams designed to help employers skill and upskill new and current employees as people return to work and as the economy adds jobs.

“COVID-19 has created both a public health and an economic crisis, and as the world recovers, we need to ensure no one is left behind,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “Today, we’re bringing together resources from Microsoft inclusive of LinkedIn and GitHub to reimagine how people learn and apply new skills—and help 25 million people facing unemployment due to COVID-19 prepare for the jobs of the future.”

“The biggest brunt of the current downturn is being borne by those who can afford it the least,” Microsoft President Brad Smith added. “Unemployment rates are spiking for people of color and women, as well as younger workers, people with disabilities and individuals with less formal education. Our goal is to combine the best in technology with stronger partnerships with governments and nonprofits to help people develop the skills needed to secure a new job.”

More information can be found at the Microsoft microsite news.microsoft.com/skills.

Meet Dr. Emma Harp
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Dr. Emma Harp leans on a rail outside medical building smiling wearing uniform

Tribal Affiliation: Cherokee Nation Osteopathic Physician Cherokee Nation

As a student at Westville High School in Oklahoma, Dr. Emma Harp used her spare time to learn about the world of healing instead of participating in more typical extracurriculars.

“I especially loved human anatomy and physiology,” she says. “This led me to spend school breaks in various health professional offices to help figure out what I really felt called to do.”

She discovered that calling before she finished her first year of college. “While job shadowing a family physician at the Wilma P. Mankiller Clinic, I fell in love with my current career,” she says. “I loved being able to encourage patients to live healthy lives and promote preventative and early detection services.”

After Dr. Harp earned her undergraduate degree in biology from Northeastern State University, she attended the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her residency at the OSU Tahlequah Campus. She was especially drawn to osteopathic medicine because of its emphasis on holistic care.

“As a Cherokee citizen, treating the ‘whole’ person felt natural for me,” she explains. “While my medication management still remains very much traditionally Western medicine, I treat several patients who utilize Native medicine and who enjoy tribal dishes, like traditional greens, which can sometimes interact with their medication regimens.”

As a Cherokee osteopathic physician, Dr. Harp feels she is able to hold a more respectful conversation with her patients about any risks with those interactions. “I understand the importance of traditional medicine to those people, and I want to utilize those medicines while keeping my patients safe and aware of any risk,” she says.

If a patient mentions a different option that includes traditional medicine, she says she is happy to explore that possibility. “I often find myself in a discussion about our ancestors, their lifestyle, food, and activities,” she says. “It really helps put things in perspective for most patients.”

During her years in college, then as a medical student, and ultimately as a resident, Dr. Harp rotated through Cherokee Nation clinics. Now, as a physician, Dr. Harp has been working for the Cherokee Nation for several years. “I absolutely love taking care of tribal citizens. I really connect with them, and vice versa,” she says. “We grew up in the same communities with the same values and experiences. That connection helps build so much trust and is really the epitome of what you want in a patient-physician relationship.”

Dr. Harp credits her passion for caring for her community to the time she spent with her grandparents growing up. “My grandmother was very selfless and cared for those around her,” she says. Now, with four children of her own, Dr. Harp understands the value of community role models. “It is important for Native youth to see other Natives succeed in the field of their choice,” she says. “It plants a seed that reassures that child that their dream can come true.”
—Vincent Schilling
Source: Reprinted by permission from Winds of Change © 2020 by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

Navajo Roots Trailblaze a Path to Mars
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Aaron Yazzie's headshot

Aaron Yazzie continues to set his sights higher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. With a Diné (Navajo) background, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, and as a Mechanical Engineer with a focus on Sample Acquisition and Handling at NASA, Yazzie designs mechanisms for acquiring geological samples from other planets.

Diversity in STEAM Magazine had a chance to talk with Yazzie about his Native American background and how it influenced his journey to NASA.

DISM: Can you tell us about your background and journey to becoming a mechanical engineer at NASA?

Yazzie: I was born in Tuba City, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. I was born to parents who were 1st generation college students in their families—families that have had traditional Diné upbringings. Their first language was Dinébizaad (Navajo Language), their first known homes were our traditional Diné Hooghan (Navajo Hogan Houses/Dwellings). They learned the English language in elementary school, where they were the first generation in their family forced to attend school by the US government. From that unique beginning, and from that early-childhood culture shock and trauma, both my mother and father made it through an educational system rigged against them, graduated high school, and went to college—the first in their families. My mother earned her degree in education—she became a high school level math teacher. And my father received a degree in civil engineering—he became an engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation. Both of them have been pioneers of Indigenous achievement in higher education and STEM careers. They may not be known and recognized by the larger Native community as STEM pioneers, but they are certainly my inspiration and the trailblazers to my career at NASA.

I grew up in Holbrook, AZ, a small border town to the Navajo Reservation. My brothers and I grew up, and attended school in the Holbrook School District, where we all graduated proud “Holbrook Roadrunners.”
Growing up, I didn’t have any examples or role models who went to prestigious private schools or went on to work at places like NASA. I knew I wanted to transcend the expectations of my family and my hometown, which is why I always strove for the highest grades in school, participated in all the school leadership positions and sought out all the high school summer enrichment programs. These are the programs that ended up transforming me from a self-doubting minority student into a solid college applicant with some awareness of my self-worth. They gave me the confidence to apply to, and to eventually be accepted to, Stanford University—an event that changed the course of my life.

Making the transition from small-town public school to prestigious private college was a big challenge. Nothing about my time at Stanford was easy, whether it was the rigorous academics or the constant financial struggle. Not to mention being separated from a tight-knit home community like the Navajo community for the first time. I was forced to learn quickly how to adapt, persevere, and overcome many challenges during my time at Stanford. Thankfully, there was a supportive community of BIPOC students who were going through the same challenges as I was. We all supported each other and made it through—not only graduating, but each of us moving on to do incredible things.

I was hired by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory mid-way through my senior year at Stanford. I was heavily involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society from the time that I was a high school freshman. I grew from there to be president of my high school AISES chapter, then became the Stanford AISES chapter president, and then National AISES Region 2 Student Representative. Along the way I received a 4-year scholarship from AISES to attend Stanford, and while there, I received 2 NASA internships through AISES. One placed me at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and one at NASA Glenn Research Center. By the time I was ready to look for a job, AISES had helped give me a college education, 2 NASA internships, and a job opportunity with one of the most prestigious engineering institutions in the world. I met the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory recruiter at the AISES National Conference in 2007. From that interaction, I received an on-lab interview, and was hired soon after. I have been working as a Mechanical Engineer at NASA JPL for 12 years and counting.

DISM: Tell us about your significant milestone – when NASA’s InSight lander touched the surface of Mars. What were you feeling, and how was that experience?

Yazzie: NASA InSight was the first mission I worked on where I was tasked with leading the design and delivery of space flight hardware. Up until this point in my career, I supported missions as a test engineer or support engineer. When InSight successfully launched into space, it was the first time something I designed—something I touched with my own hands—went into space. And when it landed on Mars, it was the first time I sent something to another planet. I was completely thrilled, and overwhelmed with emotions when I saw the first set of pictures of my hardware on Mars. Considering where I came from, this achievement was monumental!
Being an engineer from a remarkably underrepresented community in STEM fields, it is a constant struggle to overcome imposter syndrome. I did not think I was a thriving or even adequate engineer at NASA. It’s a shame that it took an achievement like sending something to Mars to convince me that I belonged in my field, and that I belonged at NASA.

DISM: Can you tell us more about “Mars 2020”? What is the mission? How has the experience been?

Yazzie: Currently, I am the lead engineer for the Mars 2020 Drill Bits. We are sending the Mars 2020 Rover “Perseverance” to drill rock samples and save them in hermetically sealed tubes, so that we can eventually bring those samples back to Earth in future missions to determine if life exists on Mars. Additionally, this mission will study the history of rocky planets and conduct experiments that will pave the way for humans to travel to Mars. It’s really incredible to be part of another historic NASA mission. I’ve grown so much as an engineer—now sending my second flight hardware to Mars, but also being able to lead a team and be a mentor for the first time in my career. I’m very proud to have successfully delivered my parts to the rover, and very excited for the Mars 2020 launch in July 2020.

DISM: How has your Navajo background influenced your career?

Yazzie: Coming from an Indigenous background, I have a deep appreciation for the advancements of my family and ancestors before me. Considering that Native Americans weren’t granted basic civil rights in this country until 1968, it is remarkable that our people have not only overcome this historic oppression, but have been able to thrive and advance. I reflect on my own family, where as recent as one generation ago, my parents spoke no English, but learned in a small amount of time that education was the modern way to advance their people. My own academic achievements and this career I have been fortunate to achieve has all been made possible by the advancements of the Navajo people who have come before me. And it is for them that I use my privilege and platform to continue on.

DISM: What advice would you give to Native Americans wanting to pursue engineering?

Yazzie: Be resilient. It’s almost guaranteed that along your STEM journey, you will look around and not see very many others like you, from backgrounds like your own. But please understand that there are people in all directions of your life that are there to help you. Those before you, who want to help you succeed through mentorship and wisdom. Those beside you, who are on your same journey. And those behind you, who see you as an inspiration and role model. Recognizing that you have a full circle of support and inspiration will help you achieve any and all of your goals.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Robert Half