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Difference Makers: How Mae Jemison Inspires Students through Space Travel

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During Black History Month, Green Dot Public Schools is celebrating the accomplishments of four African-American groundbreakers. Each of these pioneers have demonstrated a passion for excellence, upheld professional responsibilities, and supported educational opportunities for the next generation of students. 

Mae Carol Jemison—an engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut—made history when she became the first African-American woman to travel to space in 1992. As a mission specialist on the NASA Endeavor Spacecraft, Jemison orbited Earth for just over a week. Jemison later retired from NASA in 1993 to spearhead science learning projects.

Education has played a critical role in Jemison’s life. Recognizing her deep love for science at an early age, she enrolled at Stanford University at the age of 16, studying chemical engineering, and later earned a medical degree from Cornell University. Jemison later practiced medicine in the United States and volunteered her medical services in developing countries through the United States Peace Corps. Each of these opportunities made it possible for Jemison to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut corp in 1987. 

In her post-NASA career, Jemison continues to fight at the forefront of science literacy. She has founded several education-based organizations including the The Earth We Share international science camp; Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, and Jemison, Inc. Continuing her love for space travel, Jemison also leads the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s 100 Year Starship initiative, which is a project focused on making long-distance space travel possible within the next century. 

At Green Dot Public Schools, we celebrate excellence all year long. We’ve built Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School, a public, tuition-free, college preparatory charter school serving the Watts, Compton, and South Los Angeles communities, to honor Jemison’s unforgettable impact on education and space travel. This high-performing middle school has seen incredible growth in both English and math assessments, built strong school-parent relationships, and pioneered safe learning spaces for all students.  

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