Technological advancements promise to change the world, but the African continent is not yet ready for it, say experts.
Countries in Africa are seeing economic progress and regional integration that could support the spread of transformational technologies such as artificial intelligence or the internet of things. Yet a deep lack in digital skills, coherent leadership, and basic infrastructure could make the continent miss out on a major industrial revolution – this time with dire consequences, experts warn.
Image Credit – Tech Central
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of the digital, biological, and physical worlds, where artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the “internet of things,” and advanced wireless technologies see increased development worldwide. This revolution promises to bring about transformative changes that Africa cannot afford to miss, say experts from the Brookings Institution in a new report.
“Failure to recognize and capitalize on Fourth Industrial Revolution opportunities, conversely, will impose considerable risks on African stakeholders,” warns Brookings. “Without attempts to move beyond existing models of innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital growth on the continent, African businesses risk falling further behind, exacerbating the global ‘digital divide’ and lowering their global competitiveness.”
Antonio T. Baines knows what it’s like to feel alone in the lab. He lived it while getting his doctorate. “I was in this Ph.D. pharmacology/toxicology graduate program, and there was nobody who looked like me when I first got there,” he says.
At the time, Baines, who is African American, was studying at the University of Arizona. He entered his graduate program with a friend, who was also Black. “She was in the master’s program,” Baines says, “but we were the only two.”
Now, as an associate professor and a cancer researcher in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina Central University, he is working to change such situations. He mentors, he teaches, and he is a spokesperson and advocate for the next generation of students of color coming into the sciences.
“I think representation is so important—you need to see folks who look like you, no matter who you are, and others need to see that, too” Baines says. “If you don’t ever see it, then, is it possible?”
This discussion is part of a speaker series hosted by the Black Employee Network at Springer Nature, the publisher of Scientific American. The series aims to highlight Black contributions to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) a history that has not been widely recognized. It will cover career paths, role models and mentorship, and diversity in STEM.
When Jake Soberal founded tech hub Bitwise Industries alongside Irma Olguin Jr. in 2013, the “volume of injustice” for impoverished communities of systemic poverty rang at a medium decibel. Since then, the noise has noticeably increased.
“Trump gets elected, and now the volume is quite high. Then there’s a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the volume is deafeningly loud,” Soberal, 35, says. “There is no waiting [for our company]. Going slow is not an option. This is work that desperately needs to be scaled.”
Image: Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. were frustrated by the limited career prospects in their hometown, and wanted to find a solution. Photo Courtesy of Bitwise Industries
Bitwise Industries, which trains tech workers in marginalized communities, develops software and invests in tech-friendly real estate, announced today that it has secured $50 million in Series B funding from Kapor Capital, JPMorgan, Motley Fool Ventures and ProMedica. To date, Bitwise has raised $100 million at a valuation Forbes estimates at roughly $200 million.
A third-generation Mexican American and the first in her family to go to college, Olguin told Forbes in June that she’d been working to make coding instruction available to disadvantaged members of her local community when she met fellow Fresno, California, native and intellectual property lawyer Soberal. They teamed up to find a “fundamentally different way to rebuild American cities.”
Olguin and Soberal later launched Shift3 Technologies—a software development division that builds apps and custom programs for small and medium-sized businesses—to boost the hiring pipeline for Geekwise alumni.
Bitwise’s third business-line is investing in commercial real estate. In California, the cofounders have developed and leased 450,000 square feet of previously blighted, long-forgotten buildings, transforming them into coworking spaces, restaurants, theaters and other desirable commercial real estate.
With a 2020 revenue that Forbes estimates at $40 million, the company has expanded its three-pronged model from Fresno to Bakersfield, Merced and Oakland. With the new funding, Olguin and Soberal hope to move into markets outside California, starting with Toledo, Ohio.
“For the first time we can start thinking about what an equitable recovery looks like,” says Olguin, 40. “What does it actually mean to rebuild an American city coming out of the pandemic, and coming out of this age of justice? Bitwise can deliver to the world and to the cities a diverse and inclusive technology workforce, where those high-wage, high-skilled jobs now are creating and endeavoring to bolster that local economy.”
An absolutely brilliant young woman in Kenya has started a company manufacturing bricks from plastic waste.
Nzambi Matee says she was “tired of being on the sidelines” while civil servants struggled against plastic waste in the capital city of Nairobi, so the materials engineer created a product that is 5 to 7 times stronger than concrete.
Founder of Gjenge Makers, which transforms plastic waste into durable building materials, Matee also designed the machines that manufacture the bricks in her factory.
Getting dumps of plastic low and high-density polyethylene and polypropylene from local packaging plants for free, Gjenge Makers produces a variety of different paving stones after the plastic polymer is heated and mixed with sand.
“There is waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get,” Matee told Reuters.
The result is a line of versatile building materials pressed via hydraulic machine into different thicknesses, that sell in a variety of colors that cost an average of $7.70 per square meter.
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry as a whole has a lot of work to do when it comes to adding diversity to its field.
As a Black female meteorologist, I didn’t see myself growing up. Often times, that led to doubt and frustration. But little did I know it was also becoming part of my purpose — giving little girls who look like me an opportunity to see themselves.
NASA will honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance Thursday, Jan. 28. This year’s NASA Day of Remembrance also marks 35 years since the Challenger tragedy.
“NASA has a unique culture that is fueled by possibility, set on a path to the next giant leap for humanity, and guided by its history,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The lessons of our past are the enduring legacy of the brave women and men who did not put limits on what could
(Image Credit – NASA/Bill Ingalls)
be achieved, and we all recognize the honor of being counted among them as part of the NASA family.”
Jurczyk will lead an observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which will begin with a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by observances for the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia crews.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event will be limited to invited guests and closed to media.
Various NASA centers also will hold observances on the Day of Remembrance. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be limited at these events, and CDC-recommended health and safety protocols – including physical distancing and face coverings – will be followed.
Kennedy Space Center, Florida
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, in partnership with The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, will host a Day of Remembrance ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy’s Visitor Complex with limited in-person invited guests. The ceremony will feature remarks by Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, as well as retired space shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach, and Astronauts Memorial Foundation President and CEO Thad Altman. The ceremony will livestream at 11 a.m. EST on Kennedy’s Facebook account.
Johnson Space Center, Houston
NASA’s Johnson Space Center will hold a commemoration at the Astronaut Memorial Grove with limited in-person invited guests. The ceremony will feature remarks by Johnson Center Director Mark Geyer, as well as Cheryl McNair, widow of Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair, NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, and former Johnson Center Director George Abbey.
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will observe Day of Remembrance with a prerecorded observance featuring remarks from Marshall Center Director Jody Singer, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, and a moment of silence. The event will appear on Marshall’s YouTube channel and will be shared on the center’s social media account.
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
NASA’s Glenn Research center will observe Day of Remembrance with a virtual observance for Glenn staff only.
Video and still images of various agency observances will be available at:
Diversity is a hot topic in the tech industry — and because it’s discussed frequently, it might be easy to feel like things have already changed. But according to a recent Women in Technology report from IDC, only 42% of women feel their employer offered equal pay, compared to 75% of men who feel the same.
Additionally, 56% of women feel that women are underrepresented in STEM fields in their organization compared to 26% of men. Women also feel that their workplace is more geared towards men (45%), that there is a lack of support for women in STEM (33%) and
(Image Credit – CIO)
that taking time off for family will impact their career opportunities (35%).
Whether you already have a strong network of women colleagues in your industry or if you’re looking to expand your community, there are a number of conferences designed for women in STEM fields. And most of these aren’t just for women — they’re open to allies and anyone who supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Here are 20 tech conferences that aim to connect women and other underrepresented groups in technology to build a more diverse community in the tech industry.
Black Women Tech Talk
The Black Women Tech Talk conference is dedicated to founders and offers “self-enriching sessions, networking and one-of-a-kind experiences.” The three-day event includes keynote speakers, sessions on how to practice self-care as a founder, how to balance your personal life and career, and other workshops specific to being a female founder. The retreat also includes less traditional sessions and perks such as free hair and makeup appointments, group yoga sessions, and other networking and social events that give attendees a chance to mingle.
Global Women in Tech Awards
The Women in IT Awards & Summit is a one-day event covering topics such as blockchain, AI and machine learning — there is also an awards gala at the end of the conference. Award categories include CIO of the Year; Advocate of the Year; Entrepreneur of the Year; Future CIO of the Year; Business Role Model of the Year; CTO of the Year; Rising Star; and Diversity Initiative of the Year. The NYC and Silicon Valley conferences were held virtually in 2020 — dates and location for 2021 haven’t been announced yet.
Grace Hopper Celebration
The Grace Hopper Celebration was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994 and is now the world’s “largest gathering of women technologists,” according to the event website. The conference is named after Admirable Grace Murray Hopper, who is considered the one of the first computer programmers — her work is directly responsible for the development of COBOL.
Read the original article and learn more about tech conferences for women at CIO.
Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez spent most of his youth working the fields.
So many kids have struggled with remote learning, but Hernandez wants them all to know when it comes to their future, the sky’s the limit.
As a young boy, Hernandez picked fruits and vegetables alongside his family.
“We spent nine months in California, three months in Mexico, but those nine months I went to three different school districts,” he explained.
The family settled in Stockton. Jose couldn’t speak English until he was 12 years old, but STEM subjects spoke to him.
“I gravitated towards math because 1 + 3 is 4 in any language,” Hernandez said.
When he was ten, Jose told his dad he wanted to be an astronaut, so his father laid out a five-part recipe for success.
First, set a goal. Then recognize how far away you are from that goal.
“The third thing is you have to draw yourself a road map to know where you’re at to where you want to go,” Hernandez added. “And then I asked what’s the fourth? He said you’ve got to get an education.”
The University of the Pacific grad called hard work the fifth ingredient.
But his path was a difficult one.
“NASA rejected me not once, not twice, not three times but 11 times. It wasn’t until the 12th time that I got selected,” he said.
Hernandez would blast off with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009.
“It’s a ride that even Disneyland would be envious of because you go from zero to 17,500 miles an hour in eight and a half minutes,” he recalled.
Jose worked on the International Space Station during the 14-day trip, which covered 5.4 million miles.
“I wish we had a frequent flyer program,” Hernandez laughed.
He circled the globe 217 times but remains a down to Earth guy who tells kids how to realize their own dreams.
“Hard work and perseverance and not being afraid to dream big,” he said.
Continue on to the NBC 7 to read the complete article.
FARMINGTON — The University of Maine at Farmington has received a National Science Foundation grant of $96,377 to engage rural students with disabilities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning through accessible makerspaces.
The innovative UMF incubator makerspace, Maine-Makerspaces for Abilities Driving Entrepreneurship (ME-MADE), is in the Mantor Library Learning Commons. It is available to the university community, with plans to be open to members of the public of all abilities and disabilities.
(Photo credit – Courtesy UMF)
A makerspace is an area that contains materials and tools for people to work together to learn, collaborate, create and share. They provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they engage in STEM.
Over a 16-month period of the NSF planning grant, UMF and its partners, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance and the Mt. Blue Middle School, will focus on creating a shared vision that will be supported by a range of activities, including, outreach to grades kindergarten to 12 schools throughout the state.
The NSF grant will build on the progress of a three-year, $300,000 grant received from the University of Maine System’s Maine Economic Improvement Fund in spring 2020. The MEIF is the state’s investment in University of Maine System research and development that benefits the people of Maine. The UMF project was recognized as having the potential to provide a positive economic impact for Maine by fostering entrepreneurship in the region.
by Danielle Ferguson, Ed.D., Researcher, American Institute for Research (AIR)
Dr. Danielle Ferguson, now a researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), focused her dissertation on African American Women in STEM: Uncovering stories of persistence and resilience through an examination of social and cultural capital.
In this article, Dr. Ferguson shares some of what she learned from her research.
There have been many calls from researchers to increase the diversity of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field (Archer et al., 2015; McGee & Bentley, 2017), especially including the participation of more African American women. The lack of representation of African American women and other people from diverse backgrounds could be viewed through multiple lenses but diversity could only improve the global competitiveness of the United States. Furthermore, STEM careers provide economic benefits for individuals because they are amongst the fastest growing career path and provide higher salaries than other careers (Pew Research Center, 2018).
Many teachers, professors, researchers, and others have answered this call to action by creating programs at the institutional level to increase the interest, participation, and retention of African American women in the STEM field, such as the Defense STEM Education Consortium program at Morgan State University. But what happens to African American women after they enter STEM careers? According to the eight successful African American women with a terminal degree in the STEM field, who were interviewed as part of Dr. Ferguson’s research, their experiences in their STEM careers are not what they expected. They feel undervalued, face both sexism and racism, and lack the guidance and support that they need to advance in the field.
In order for African American women to be successful once they enter the STEM field, they need guidance and support. Glen Aikenhead (2001) argued that learning science is a cross-cultural event for non-white students, therefore success in the field requires a cultural broker. A cultural broker is someone who relates to an individual’s culture and the culture of science and can help individuals build a bridge between the two cultures. Cultural brokers offer individuals, including African American women, strategies for success in their field by providing them with specific feedback for how to advance in their field, introducing them to key people, and helping them navigate cultural borders by showing them how to leverage their cultural capital in the STEM fields. They encourage African Americans to bring their full selves to their careers while also assisting them in being successful in STEM.
Cultural brokers spend time building relationships with African American women. They offer them authentic opportunities for professional growth. For example, instead of only suggesting that these women attend professional conferences, cultural brokers provide them opportunities to participate in projects that they can present at conferences. Additionally, cultural brokers help African American women understand the importance of attending professional conferences is networking with prominent researchers in the STEM fields and assist them in making important connections with these individuals. Cultural brokers assist African American women in getting articles published in peer-reviewed journals by modeling the process and connecting them with others with whom they can collaborate, since publications help individuals build prominence in STEM fields. Cultural brokers listen to African American women. They do not downplay the hardships that they face but work with them to find solutions to overcome the barriers. Furthermore, they advocate with and for African American women. In summary, the role of a cultural broker is to go beyond providing African American women with information but to assist these women in building bridges between their experiences and perspectives and the experiences that are valuable in STEM fields.
If we truly believe that increasing the diversity of STEM fields is beneficial to individuals and our nation, we cannot continue to encourage African American women to pursue STEM careers then leave them scrambling for opportunities once they arrive. We cannot continue to provide mentorship that requires these women to detach from their identities and culture. We have to become cultural brokers for these women to help them bridge the gap between their culture and the culture of science by providing genuine opportunities, support, and listening to these women. Trial by fire can no longer be a rite of passage in STEM, especially for African American women.
Aikenhead, G. S. (2001). Integrating western and aboriginal sciences. Cross-cultural Science Teaching, 31, 337-355.
Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillion, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2013). ‘Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous’: Primary school girls’ and parents’ constructions of science aspirations. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 21(1), 171-194. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2012.748676
Ferguson, D.S. (2016). African American women in STEM: Uncovering stories of persistence and resilience through an examination of social and cultural capital (Accession No. 10158857). [Doctoral dissertation, Morgan State University, Baltimore]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Astronaut Jeanette Epps will make history as the first black woman to live and work with a crew in space.
By Monica Luhar
It was always her dream to one day go up in space.
Little did astronaut Jeanette Jo Epps know she’d be making history while doing it.
In August, NASA named Epps, who turned 50 on November 3, to NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, which marks the first operational crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).
The mission, expected to launch in 2021, will mark Epps’ first space expedition while also making her the first African-American female astronaut to live and work onboard the ISS in a crewed flight for a six-month duration.
“I think many people dream of becoming an astronaut, most, however, never pursue it. My life has been geared toward it indirectly with the hope of becoming a viable candidate. However, it wasn’t until Spring ’08 that, because of the encouragement of a close friend, I realized that I would be a viable candidate and that I should apply,” Epps said in a NASA interview.
Epps will be joining NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada on a six-month long mission to the ISS. The flight will follow strict protocol and NASA certification after a successful uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 and Crew Flight Test with astronauts.
Shortly after the flight announcement, Epps tweeted out her excitement for joining the expedition with her NASA colleagues:
“I’m super excited to join Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada on the first operational Boeing crew mission to the International Space Station. I’ve flown in helicopters with Sunita flying and I’ve flown in the backseat of a T-38 with Josh flying, and they are both wonderful people to work with. So, I’m looking forward to the mission,” she tweeted.
Former NASA astronaut Mae Carol Jemison became the first black woman to travel in space after being selected to NASA’s astronaut program in June 1987. She was followed by astronaut Stephanie Wilson, while Joan Higginbotham was the third black woman to venture into space.
While this will be Epps’ first space expedition, it is not her first mission. In 2017, NASA assigned Epps to be a flight engineer to the International Space Station in mid-2018 for Expeditions 56 and 57.
She would have become the first African-American space station crew member, the first African American to launch aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle, and the 15th African American to fly in space. But in January 2018, NASA ended up backtracking on its decision for reasons unknown.
But now Epps is back in action and is slated to make history through her first spaceflight to the International Space Station.
The Path to Space
The inspiration for a career in space exploration was embedded in Epps as a child. She was born in Syracuse, New York, as one of seven children to Henry and Luberta (née Jackson) Epps, Mississippians who moved to Syracuse as part of the Great Migration.
She and her twin sister, Janet, both excelled in math and science, and when Epps was 9-years-old, it was her brother who inspired her to pursue a career in space.
“My older brother came home from school at Rochester Institute of Technology when I was 9 and he took a look at my sister’s and my grades. He said, ‘Wow, you guys are doing great. You can be anything you want to be, an astronaut, whatever,’” she told a group of students, as reported by The Star Telegram.
But the journey to getting there wasn’t always a linear path; Epps dabbled in several different careers before becoming an astronaut for NASA.
She previously worked for Ford Motor Company, where she was responsible for research surrounding automobile collision detection and other systems that led to the success of a provisional patent and a U.S. Patent for her research. She also worked at the Central Intelligence Agency for seven years as a Technical Intelligence Officer before becoming an astronaut with NASA and working in the ISS Operations Branch to troubleshoot issues to support space station crews.
She received her Bachelor of Science in Physics at LeMoyne College, and her Master of Science and Doctorate of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland.
In 2008, Epps had a conversation with a friend who encouraged her to apply to the Astronaut Corps. In an interview with Parentology, Epps said, “I never thought that they’d actually select me, but they did.”
In 2009, Epps was selected as one of 9 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class.
“I was truly shocked because of the caliber of people I met during the interview process,” she said upon hearing that she was chosen. “I met some of the most amazing inspirational people. It is a huge honor to have been selected!
During her graduate school career, Epps served as a NASA fellow and wrote many journal and conference articles discussing her research.
“Her graduate research involved extensive testing of composite swept‐tip beams, comparative analysis of analytical models and experimental data for shape memory alloys and the application of shape memory alloy actuators for tracking helicopter rotor blades,” according to NASA.
Inspiring Future Astronauts
Epps knows all too well the importance of encouraging students who are interested in STEM and other career avenues to follow their dreams, no matter the hurdles.
She was recently invited to speak to youth at Weatherford High School about her experience as an astronaut and her excitement about the upcoming NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman on the moon by 2024.
Epps told students about the training she received at NASA, as well as her previous career path. She also shared her excitement as one of 13 female astronaut candidates that could be the first woman to land on the moon.
“You never know, as long as you’re in the program. That would be fantastic…It would be otherworldly,” Epps told students, as reported by The Star Telegram.
She explained that a historic trip to the moon could help uncover more answers about the Earth and the solar system. “It can be a way point to getting to Mars. We can stop there and we refuel and go on to Mars,” Epps told Business Insider in an interview.
When she’s not researching or thinking about space, Epps’s earthly hobbies include scuba diving and reading. “Other hobbies that I have, when I am not working, include traveling, reading, and trying as many new things as I can!”
NASA has had many interesting developments and upcoming projects like Asthros and Euclid, and others underway. For astronauts currently in space, many were able to safely cast their vote from the ISS in time for the 2020 presidential election. Astronaut Kate Rubins tweeted, “From the International Space Station: I voted today — Kate Rubins.”
In 2016, the film, Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, shed light on the importance of STEAM as well as workplace discrimination, segregation, and other barriers that faced African-American female mathematicians and engineers. Many African Americans in STEM played an important role in the space program at NASA and helped shape the future of space exploration.
Representation and diverse leadership in STEM are key. The UPS recently posted a report discussing the need for more black women in STEM leadership: “Without a stronger commitment globally to diversity and inclusion in STEM, companies will continue to miss out on—or lose—talent that could bolster their business performance, and ultimately, their bottom lines.”
According to Catalyst, in 2017, 11.5 percent of science and engineering employees in the US were women of color. Currently, only 17 African-American astronauts represent NASA.
While women of color have been historically underrepresented in STEM, Epps is committed to moving the needle.
“The NASA mission has always inspired me because I have a great desire to help further our understanding of the world we live in and the universe,” she said in a NASA interview. “I pursued a career in science and technology in an effort to contribute. I also have a desire to encourage young students to pursue careers in science and help contribute because I believe everyone can help and has a part to play!”
With Epps sets to make history on the International Space Station in 2021, as well as potentially becoming the first woman to set foot on the moon, the sky’s the limit for African-American innovations in STEM from earth and beyond.