In elementary school we were given the assignment to write a report on whoever we wanted. As I browsed through my school’s library, I was drawn to a book with an astronaut on the cover. When I looked at the title of the book and saw that I shared a first name with this woman, I knew I had to do my report on her. Now, a decade later, I’m brushing up on my Mae C. Jemison facts. I hope you enjoy this installment of F*cking Awesome Women Wednesday.
Mae C. Jemison is both a pioneer of the sciences and a dedicated philanthropist. She was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama to Charlie Jemison and Dorothy (Green) Jemison. Her father was a roofer and carpenter and her mother an elementary school teacher. When she was only three years old, Jemison’s family moved to Chicago, Illinois, and that is where she now considers home.
Growing up, Jemison’s parents encouraged her to pursue both her education and personal talents. From an early age she was interested in reading books about science, specifically astronomy. She graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1973 and attended Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship. At Stamford, Jemison was involved in many clubs and extracurricular activities. She was head of the Black Student Union and participated in dance and theater productions. In 1977 she received her Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering.
After Stamford, Jemison attended Cornell University Medical College. During her time there she studied in Cuba and Kenya and worked at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. After getting her M.D. in 1981, Jemison interned at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center, where she later worked as a general practitioner. In the early 1980s, she served as the Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia. She also taught and did medical research in the countries.
In October of 1985, Jemison decided to follow her childhood dreams. She applied to NASA’s astronaut training program; two years later, she was accepted. On June 4, 1987, Jemison became the first African-American woman to be admitted into the astronaut training program. After training for over a year, she officially became the first African-American female astronaut. Her job at NASA was “science mission specialist” – she was responsible for conducting crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. On September 12, 1992, Jemison was the first African American woman to fly into space. She travelled on the Endeavour with six other astronauts on mission STS47.
Jemison has won numerous awards, including the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award and the Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992. She has also been a member of many impactful organizations – American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition, just to name a few. In 1998, a school in Detroit, Michigan was named after her.
After she decided to retire from being an astronaut, Jemison took up a job as a teaching fellow at Dartmouth. In addition, she established the Jemison Group, a company that researches, develops and markets advanced technologies.
“You have as much right as anyone else to be in this world and to be in any profession you want. … You don’t have to wait for permission.” – Mae C. Jemison