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  • Writer's pictureSilicon Valley Education Foundation

25 Remarkable STEM Leaders of Color

Dr. Gladys West


Dr. Gladys West was responsible for the mathematics that brought about the invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS). In 1956, West started working at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory where she helped program the Naval Ordinance Research Calculator (NORC).

Mary Jackson

Mathematician & Aerospace Engineer

Mary Jackson was a mathematician and aerospace engineer. In 1951 she joined the West Computers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and in 1958 she became the first black female engineer at NASA.

Dr. Antonia Novello

Physician & Public Health Administrator

Dr. Antonia Novello was the first woman and first Latina to hold the position of surgeon general of the U.S. Dr. Novello earned her Doctor of Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico before serving as surgeon general from 1990 to 1993.

Mary G. Ross

Aerospace Engineer

Mary G. Ross was the first Native American female aerospace engineer. She worked in Lockheed’s Advanced Development Program and assisted in developing the plans for fly-by missions to Venus and Mars. She was originally hired as a mathematician in 1942 prior to transitioning to a career in engineering.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

Mathematician Extraordinaire

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan was an African American mathematician and human computer who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and NASA, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. As supervisor of the West Area Computers in 1949, she was the first African-American woman supervisor of a staff center.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Electric Engineer & Astronaut

Dr. Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina astronaut to explore outer space. She earned her PhD in electrical engineering and began the three-year process of becoming a NASA astronaut. Her first trip to space took place on the Discovery in 1993, and she has since been to outer space three more times.

Kalpana Chawla

Aerospace Engineer & Astronaut

Kalpana Chawla was an aerospace engineer and the first Indian American woman in space on NASA’s 1997 Columbia space shuttle mission as a robotic arm operator. Chawla was a mission specialist on the Columbia shuttle’s STS-107 mission in 2003 and died when the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry after its 16-day flight.

Dr. Wangari Maathai

Activist, Politician & Environmentalist

Kenyan activist and politician Dr. Wangari Maathai will go down in history as one of the world’s most impactful environmentalists. Maathai was the first female professor in her home country of Kenya and the first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Katherine Johnson


Katherine Johnson was a Black American mathematician whose complex calculations on orbital mechanics as a NASA employee led to the success of the first US crewed spaceflights. Her calculations were critical to the successes of manned space missions in the early 1960s as well as the 1969 moon landing.

Tu Youyou

Pharmaceutical Chemist and Malariologist

In 2015, Tu Youyou became the first woman from the People’s Republic of China to receive the Nobel Prize. She and two other scientists shared the Nobel in physiology or medicine for their groundbreaking work discovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, the drugs that treat malaria.

Dr. Marie Daly


Dr. Marie Daly was a biochemist and the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. She made vital contributions in four areas of research: the chemistry of histones, protein synthesis, the relationships between cholesterol and hypertension, and creatine uptake by muscle cells.

Anna Mani


Anna Mani was an Indian meteorologist who contributed significantly to the understanding of solar radiation, ozone and wind energy by developing a wide range of measurement tools. One of India’s pioneering female scientists, Mani excelled in the male-dominated area of meteorology and became the Deputy Director-General of the India Meteorological Department.

Dr. Mae Carol Jemison


Best known as the first Black woman to travel to space, Dr. Mae Carol Jemison is an American engineer, physician and astronaut. Born in 1956, Jemison graduated from Stanford with a degree in Chemical Engineering and went on to study Medicine at Cornell. She then spent 2 years as a Peace Corps medical officer in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte


Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was a Native American doctor and reformer in the late 19th century. She was the first person to receive federal aid for professional education, and the first American Indian woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. Picotte was an active social reformer as well as a physician. She campaigned to prevent and treat tuberculosis, which then had no cure, as part of a public health campaign.

Dr. Azar Andami

Physician & Bacteriologist

Dr. Azar Andami was an Iranian physician and bacteriologist. She began her career as a teacher for the Ministry of Culture, but attended Tehran university and graduated as a doctor of medicine in 1959. She published several scholarly papers and invented a vaccine against cholera, a bacterial disease primarily caused by drinking contaminated water.

Chika Kuroda


Chika Kuroda was a Japanese chemist whose research focused on the structures of natural pigments. Kuroda determined the molecular structure of shikonin, the pigment in purple gromwell as well as the structure of carthamin, the red pigment in safflower. Her extraction of quercetin crystals from onion skin led to the development of the antihypertensive drug Kerutin C.

Cecilia Rodriguez Aragon

Computer Scientist, Professor, Author & Aerobatic Pilot

The daughter of a Chilean father and a Filipina mother Cecilia Rodriguez Aragon is best known as the co-inventor (with Raimund Seidel) of the treap data structure, a type of binary search tree that orders nodes by assigned priority and a key. She is also known for her work in data-intensive science and visual analytics of very large data sets which earned her a PECASE award.

Nguyễn Thị Kim Thanh


Nguyễn Thị Kim Thanh is a Vietnamese scientist, and she’s known for her award-winning work on nanomaterials. In 2019, she earned the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award for her contributions to nanotechnology. In addition to her award-winning research, Nguyen has also been an outspoken activist for gender equality in science.

Lucía Gallardo


Lucía Gallardo is a Honduran serial experimenter building custom technology systems at the convergence of sustainable development, exponential technologies, and re-imagined socio-economic incentives and behaviours. She is the founder and CEO of Emerge, a company using emerging technology to help solve global issues. Her company provides technological resources to groups working for social change — “impact as a service”.

Dr. Shirley Jackson

Nuclear Physicist

Dr. Shirley Jackson was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT. Her experiments led the way for numerous developments in the telecommunication space, including the invention of fiber-optic cables that link the world’s communication system. She also worked in theoretical physics to develop the touch-tone telephone, the portable fax, caller ID and call waiting.

Dr. Kamal Jayasing Ranadive

Physician & Cancer Researcher

Ground-breaking cancer researcher Dr. Kamal Jayasing Ranadive advanced the understanding of the causes of leukaemia, breast cancer and oesophageal cancer through the use of animal models. She was also among the first to recognise how susceptibility to cancer is linked to tumour-causing interactions between hormones and viruses.

Truong Thanh Huong

Medical Expert & Lecturer (Cardiovascular Disease)

Truong Thanh Huong is a senior lecturer at the Hanoi Medical University and an expert at the Vietnam National Heart Institute under Bach Mai Hospital who has helped thousands of people with cardiovascular diseases over many years. Huong is one of the country’s leading medical experts, with many scientific works published and studies related to cardiovascular disease.

Lisa Gelobter

Developer & Social Justice Entrepreneur

Lisa Gelobter developed code for Shockwave’s ActiveX animation software, which facilitated publishing video and the creation of the gif file format. Lisa is also the CEO of tEQuitable, using technology to provide an independent, confidential platform to address issues of bias, harassment and discrimination.

Dr. Nasima Akhter

Scientist (Nuclear Medicine)

Dr. Nasima Akhter is a Bangladeshi scientist who specializes in nuclear medicine. In 2010, she won the BAS-TWAS Young Scientists Prize for her research involving nuchal translucency for fetal anomalies and research into nuclear cardiology. In 2013, she was honoured with the Elsevier Foundation Award for her work on nuclear medicine and ultrasonography.

Luz Oliveros-Belardo

Nuclear Medicine Scientist

The research of Filipino pharmaceutical chemist Luz Oliveros-Belardo focused on essential oils and other chemicals derived from native Philippine plants. In a career that spanned five decades, Oliveros-Belardo extracted 33 new essential oils for use in pharmaceuticals, in food production, as scents, and in other applications. She discovered that potassium citrate in lemongrass may be effective at treating high blood pressure.

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