Black History Month is here – and we want to celebrate African Americans who are making significant impacts on the world!
In this year’s Black History Month, let us recognize the contributions of African American professionals in different fields, including Engineering, Tech, and Science, acknowledging how they changed history, society, and the people around them.
8 African American Innovators to Celebrate this Black History Month
Ready to celebrate the month? Here are some African American professionals and innovators worth knowing about and their achievements.
1. Mark Dean
Mark Dean, the mastermind behind the contemporary personal computer, exhibited his inventive prowess from a young age, constructing a tractor with his father. His contributions include developing the ISA bus and leading a design team for a groundbreaking 1GHz computer chip. He played a pivotal role in co-creating the IBM personal computer in 1981, holding three of its nine design patents.
In 1995, he achieved the distinction of being the first Black American named an IBM Fellow. Notably, in 2019, Knox County, Tennessee, designated April 25th as Mark Dean Day, a testament to his lasting impact and innovative legacy. Mark’s impact extends globally, shaping industries and transforming the way individuals live, work, and communicate in the digital era.
2. Kara Branch
Kara Branch, an engineer based in Houston, motivates young Black girls to explore STEM fields.¹ She established a nonprofit, Black Girls Do Engineer, dedicated to offering access, education, representation, and mentorship for academically gifted Black girls from kindergarten through college with an interest in STEM.
Her program has already served 2,200 girls across various age groups. The primary objective of Black Girls Do Engineer is to cultivate a future pipeline of informed Black girls and young women, introducing them to STEM careers and ensuring they witness the representation of Black women in these fields. She aims to inspire and guide them towards successful paths in STEM.
3. Suki Fuller
Suki Fuller, from the United Kingdom, is a seasoned strategic advisor, keynote speaker, and the visionary founder of Miribure – a consultancy specializing in strategic and competitive intelligence. She brings nearly two decades of expertise in intelligence advisory across diverse fields such as chemical engineering, security, and life sciences. Her impact extends globally in academics, national security, law enforcement, and private corporations. Suki is a foremost authority on the societal implications, human rights, and civil liberties associated with technology, with a particular emphasis on facial recognition and surveillance.
4. Terysa Ridgeway
Acclaimed children’s book author and computer scientist Terysa Ridgeway is dedicated to sparking a love for coding among children globally.² Renowned as a Technical Program Manager at Google and the creative mind behind the popular ‘Terysa Solves It’ book series, Terysa has embarked on a new venture – introducing an innovative educational toy robot designed to teach kids foundational coding skills and problem-solving techniques.
“Teaching children to code is like giving them a superpower: it unlocks endless possibilities and creativity.” – Terysa Ridgeway
This robotic toy called “Terysa Solves It presents Alilo the Explorer,” seamlessly merges learning with play for children aged three and above. Alilo The Explorer aids in the development of critical thinking and algorithmic programming skills in young minds.
What makes it unique is its offering of both “plugged” and “unplugged” activities. Children can engage with the robot by programming it through an exclusive app, utilizing its directional buttons, or using the floor puzzle pieces.
5. Dr. Percy Julian
Dr. Percy Julian accomplished the first total synthesis of physostigmine, a chemical used to treat glaucoma. He also discovered the extraction of steroids from soybean oil, synthesizing the hormones progesterone and testosterone from them. He also then synthesized cortisone, a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. On top of this, he invented Aero-Foam, which was widely used to put out oil and gas fires during World War II.
He became the first Black chemist elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, and the American Chemical Society recognizes his synthesis of physostigmine as one of the top 25 greatest achievements in American chemistry history.
6. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson
Inspired by watching the Apollo missions in first grade, Aprille Ericsson became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). She is also the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University.
Throughout her aerospace engineering career at NASA, Aprille has been involved in various groups, contributing to projects that launched satellites for Earth monitoring and mission, sending spacecraft to explore other parts of the solar system. Her most notable contribution is her work on the Tropical Rain Measuring Mission, providing vital data on atmospheric phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, impacting crop productivity. She also helped develop the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which was launched in 2009.
Beyond her engineering endeavors, Aprille has shared her knowledge by teaching at Howard University, Bowie State University, and HU Public Charter Middle School of Math and Science.
7. Garrett Morgan
Garrett was an African American community leader, entrepreneur, and inventor notable for his significant contributions to traffic safety and respiratory protection.
One of his noteworthy creations was the three-way traffic light, patented in 1923. This pioneering advancement featured a warning signal designed to alert drivers before the light changes, enhancing traffic flow and minimizing accidents at intersections.
In 1914, Garrett developed and patented a safety hood, also known as a gas mask. He further refined this invention in 1916 to create the Morgan safety hood, which offered protection against smoke and harmful gases. In a successful demonstration of the device in 1916, Garrett and his team utilized it to rescue workers trapped in a tunnel beneath Lake Erie following an explosion.
8. Elijah McCoy
Canadian American inventor Elijah McCoy’s most notable invention was the automatic lubricating system for steam engines, patented in 1872 and recognized as the McCoy Lubricator.
This device played a crucial role in enhancing efficiency by automatically applying oil to the moving components of steam engines, thereby reducing friction and wear. Elijah McCoy’s innovative contribution resulted in machinery operating more effectively with reduced downtime, solidifying his noteworthy status in engineering history.
Celebrate the Contributions of African American Experts
Acknowledging the contributions of African American pioneers pays tribute to their successes and inspires upcoming generations. Observing how they influenced the world promotes diversity and excellence within the engineering community, emphasizing the necessity of cultivating an inclusive atmosphere.
By bringing attention to the achievements of Black engineers, we validate their substantial impact on technological progress. This Black History Month, let us recognize and value the resilience, innovation, and expertise demonstrated by Black professionals, innovators, and experts, fostering a more equitable representation and a promising future.
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1. Conner, Briana. “Houston Engineer Creates Pathway for Black Girls to Enter STEM-related Fields and Careers.” ABC13, 18 Nov. 2023, abc13.com/stem-black-girls-do-engineer-kara-branch-careers-in.
2. “Female Computer Scientist Inspiring Black Kids, Creates Interactive Coding Toy Robot and Book Series.” BlackNews, 6 Oct. 2023, blacknews.com/terysa-ridgeway-female-computer-scientist-inspires-black-children-interactive-coding-toy-robot.