April 30, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Sierra Leone: Staff: Science: Space: Finger Lakes Times: Work for the future: Dr. Mae Jemison wants a better world

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Work for the future: Dr. Mae Jemison wants a better world

Work for the future: Dr. Mae Jemison wants a better world

Work for the future: Dr. Mae Jemison wants a better world

Work for the future: Former astronaut wants a better world


Times Staff Writer

KEUKA PARK — When Dr. Mae Jemison was a young girl living on the south side of Chicago, she looked up at the night sky and let her imagination run wild.

But instead of just fantasizing about traveling to outer space, Jemison put her mind to making it happen.

In August 1988, Jemison completed the astronaut training program, becoming the fifth black astronaut and the first black female astronaut in NASA history. She blasted into orbit in 1992 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, becoming the first woman of color to travel into space. As the science specialist on the mission, she conducted experiments in life and material sciences and was co-investigator of the bone cell research experiment.

She served as a NASA astronaut for six years, but those experiences only begin to tell the story of who Jemison truly is:

“I’m a wanna-be dancer, college professor.... I love cherries, chocolate and melons ... I love cats, but I hate washing dishes,” said the 48-year-old who also is a linguist, space television broadcaster and entrepreneur.

Jemison offered a glimpse of her life Friday night as the keynote speaker of the 17th annual President’s Forum Carl and Fanny Fribolin Lecture at Keuka College’s Norton Chapel.

She said she always knew she wanted to be a scientist, but that she also loved art and politics.

She took studio art and ceramic classes, watched Star Trek and majored in chemical engineering. She divided her time between studying nuclear magnetic resonance and learning dance routines.

When Jemison graduated from Stanford University in 1977, she debated going to New York City to be a professional dancer or enrolling in medical school.

“My mother helped me solve that one,” she said with a smile, garnering a chuckle from the crowd packed into Norton Chapel, including Rep. John “Randy” Kuhl Jr., R-29 of Hammondsport; Assemblyman Jim Bacalles, R-136 of Corning; Keuka alumni, staff and community members.

Jemison said her mother told her she could always dance if she was a doctor, but not vice versa.

She received her doctorate in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. She was a general practitioner in Los Angeles, Calif., before spending 2 1/2 years as a Peace Corps medical officer in the West Africa nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Jemison stressed the importance of how we choose to spend our time. Each of the 86,400 seconds in each day is precious, she said. She considers her time well-spent in creative, scientific and technological pursuits.

She spoke of maintaining perspective: Try not to make too much or too little of events; keep a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously. Pay attention to your peers, she said, for they can alter your perspective.

Jemison observed that science and art are both manifestations of human creativity.

“For me, science is the expression of a shared understanding of a universal experience,” Jemison said, adding that art is the universal understanding of a personal experience.

She emphasized the vitality of science literacy, noting that 60 to 70 percent of the world’s problems can be solved through science and technology. The other 30 percent, she added, is based on random chance.

Science, she said, is misunderstood by those inside and outside of the field.

“At the heart of science are the words, ‘I think’, ‘I wonder’ and ‘I understand’,” she said, adding that once there’s understanding, people can begin to build solutions.

Jemison also noted that technology is a tool designed for a particular purpose.

“The science researched and tools developed depends on the people we are, who we are as a society,” she said. “It’s our right and responsibility to decide what to do with our collective resources. What we want science and research to do is based on the choices we make.”

Real participatory democracy demands that people pay attention to what they’re doing, she said, adding that it’s important to bring different perspectives to the table.

“What difference does it make if you act just like everybody else at the table?” said Jemison.

Her NASA career has directly influenced her subsequent endeavors, she noted.

During a press conference before the lecture, Jemison called her time as an astronaut simply “an experience.” She said it’s difficult to encapsulate because there are so many angles to consider, from the physical to the emotional.

For example, even though she didn’t feel all that great as her body adjusted to traveling in zero gravity, she also had a grin on her face the whole time, knowing she was doing something she had wanted for years.

“Floating feels silly,” she said when asked what it was like to be in space.

After Jemison resigned from NASA in 1993, she founded The Jemison Group Inc., which integrates science and technology into everyday lives. Projects have included consulting on the design and implementation of solar thermal electricity generation systems for developing countries and remote areas and the use of satellite-based telecommunications to facilitate health care delivery in West Africa.

Her new medical technology corporation, BioSentiment, develops and markets mobile equipment to monitor the body’s vital signs. It also helps train people to respond favorably in stressful situations.

Jemison talked about the tremendous impact businesses have on the world.

“We need to be conscious we have an impact. We need to take responsibility for our actions and the choices we make when working in business,” she said.

In 1994, Jemison founded — and still chairs — The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization named after her mother, who worked more than 25 years in the Chicago Public Schools system. One of the foundation’s programs — The Earth We Share — is an annual international science camp for kids 12 to 16.

Now living in Houston, Jemison is Bayer Corp.’s national science literacy advocate and a member of the board of directors for Scholastic Inc. and Valspar Corp. She sits on the Texas Governor’s State Council for Science and BioTechnology Development.

Jemison has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Medical Association Hall of Fame. She was selected as one of People magazines’ 50 Most Beautiful People in 1993.

Jemison also has made presentations to the United Nations on the uses of space technology, appeared weekly as host and technical consultant of the “World of Wonder” series on the Discovery channel, appeared in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and was the subject of the PBS documentary “The New Explorers.”

“We need a vision of the world we want to live in,” Jemison said, making note of how Sept. 11 brought U.S. citizens face to face with issues of personal and national security, while people in other countries continue to struggle daily to meet basic needs.

“We need to understand our strengths and weaknesses and combine them with the lessons from the past and the responsibilities of the present,” she said.

Each generation must discover its mission and fulfill it or betray it, she said, noting the three universal needs everyone shares — love, safety and happiness.

She equated ideas to potential energy, saying that they are wonderful but useless unless people risk putting those ideas into action.

“We have to make choices,” she said.

“If we use understanding to fulfill our vision, we will have a future proud to pass on to our children,” she said.

• • •


When this story was posted in May 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Finger Lakes Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; COS - Sierra Leone; Staff; Science; Space



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