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What the First African-American Female Astronaut Wants Us to Focus on Now

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health & Sex Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist, adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling...

This is our biggest science challenge according to the first African-American female astronaut

Winning Women

More than a quarter-century after her historic trip to space, Dr. Mae Jemison has her sights set on another frontier: advancing agriculture and science literacy.

Jemison, a former NASA astronaut and the first African-American female to travel in space is also an engineer, entrepreneur, physician and educator — and her latest project combines here areas of expertise in order to further science education and literacy, especially as it pertains to food production.

“Science literacy is so critical to our world because it touches everything that we do,” Jemison tells SheKnows. She is continuing her 20-year partnership with Bayer as well as joining forces with 4-H to work on a program called Science Matters, which is designed to equip at least 25,000 students with the tools they need to deepen their understanding of science.

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And while, yes, one of the goals is to get more people involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Jemison explains that the program is about more than training people for careers in science — it’s about giving people the information they need to be able to understand the world around them. She gives the example of women getting a breast cancer diagnosis; ideally, in a science-literate world, we’d be able to absorb and digest the relevant information to help us make informed choices about our health care.

Another significant way science education and literacy will factor into our future will be in relation to food production.

“By 2050, it is estimated that we’ll have over 2 billion people in this world,” Jemison says. “We need to produce at least 60 percent more food, and we need to do that in a sustainable manner.”

So how do we get where we need to be? Jemison says a lot of it has to do with science education and the fact that 80 percent of high school science teachers think that agricultural science is important, but at this point, only 22 percent include it in their curriculum. This is the aim of Science Matters: to bring attention to the thousands of available jobs in the agriculture industry, Jemison explains.

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There’s also the matter of expanding what we think of in terms of what is involved with agriculture — it’s so much more than sitting on a tractor or growing crops in a field, Jemison says. In reality, careers in agriculture and food production involve everything from data science, robotics, artificial intelligence, microbiology and many others.

“All those careers are open — we just have to get in front of people,” she adds.

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