What do an Alvin Ailey poster, an African Bundu statue, and a certificate for the Chicago Public School system have in common? All three are items that Dr. Mae Jemison took on her journey to space.
And, aside from their gravity-free ride, all three items have a more significant connection. For Jemison, the first woman of color to go into space, each item represents different manifestations of human creativity.
Jemison came to CSU as part of the 6th Annual Diversity Conference. Human creativity and the power of human potential were focuses in Jemison’s speech Tuesday night in the Lory Student Center Main Ballroom.
There was also a little math involved.
“There are 86,400 seconds in each day. Every second, you have the opportunity to act exactly as you wish. But you can never get those seconds back,” she said. “If you live your life thinking of those seconds, making decisions that push the world forward, we will have a world that we will be very proud to pass on to future generations.”
Jemison’s speech drew a large crowd of students, faculty and community members from all generations. Counseling and career development graduate student Zachary Scully came to hear Jemison speak because he was interested in science as a kid. “My mom is a teacher and she had a picture of (Jemison) in her classroom,” Scully said.
Jemison is best known for her history-making space trip, but in her 50 years, she has done much more than just work for NASA. A graduate of Stanford, Jemison is a medical doctor, an entrepreneur, the founder and president of two companies, a professor and had a one-time walk-on cameo in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Jemison addressed what she called “a straight-up bias” against the idea of women in the sciences.
“Some folks might say that women aren’t as involved in the sciences because they’re on the mommy track, they don’t have enough time or they haven’t been encouraged,” Jemison said. “But women who work hard and put a lot of time in the labs aren’t getting ahead. And it’s because they have to combat the bias that they shouldn’t be there. It’s incredibly important that we all get involved.”
Jemison also emphasized that no one science is more important than another, telling the audience that she disagrees with the emphasis placed on physical sciences as being more difficult to understand or more important.
“Each one of us needs to be literate in the political, social and physical sciences to understand our world,” Jemison said.
Jemison ended her speech with “a little physics lesson.”
“Remember in high school physics when your teacher held up a ball and talked about the ball’s potential energy? Human ideas represent potential energy,” Jemison said. “But those ideas can’t do any work until we risk putting them into action.”
Staff writer Hilary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .