Celebrating Black Women in STEM (+ An International Women’s Day Surprise)

Gems in STEM: Diverse Role Models

Apoorva Panidapu
Geek Culture


Happy 2022 Women’s History Month! As you know, February was Black History Month. In honor of it, every February Friday I shared my artwork of historic, bold, and inspiring Black figures who have paved the way for the world and society we know now. (I’ll be continuing this for Women’s History Month, as well!)

One of the biggest factors of bias in youth is the lack of diverse role models they know about, which is why Black History Month and Women’s History Month are so important. How long have you known the name Albert Einstein? Or Isaac Newton? These are “staple” STEM figures. But what about Ada Lovelace, who is considered to be the first computer programmer? When did you hear the name Marie Curie? Or Katherine Johnson? These significant gender and diversity gaps in knowledge of STEM figures perpetuates the idea that these fields are for men. The lack of role models is not because they don’t exist, but because they aren’t talked about and taught about.

In this column, I want to highlight the extraordinary lives and accomplishments of three Black women in STEM history: Katherine Johnson, Dr. Gladys West, and Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price, whose portraits and stories I shared last month.

Katherine Johnson

“It’s not every day you wake up with a mission in your mind, but I had a mission and I was determined to accomplish it.” — Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist, and is responsible for the success of the first U.S. crewed spaceflights. Her calculations and unmatched mathematical ability will always be a historical milestone of redefining what it means to be a “rocket scientist” and a wonderful reminder that STEM is and should always be for everyone.

On International Women’s Day in 2020, I auctioned this portrait of Katherine Johnson and ended up raising $1,000 for BEAM, a summer program for underrepresented minorities in STEM.

Dr. Gladys West

“I’ll be a role model as the Black me, as West, to be the best I can be, doing my work.”

Meet Dr. Gladys West, the woman behind the GPS you use everyday.

Dr. West is a mathematician and programmer whose incredible work in developing satellite geodesy models became the basis for GPS, changing the world we live in. She is also known for her precise calculations in modeling the shape of the Earth. During her career, she often did not get the recognition she deserved because of the prevalent racism against African Americans, but she persisted in doing the work that she loves. From winning a scholarship to go to college to earning her PhD at the age of 70 despite suffering from a stroke, Dr. Gladys West has always been a trailblazer, and her work will continue to inspire young girls for generations to come.

Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price

Meet Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price, a veterinary microbiologist who developed several vaccines for life-threatening duck (and other waterfowl) diseases.

Growing up, Dr. Price had difficult financial circumstances and was often the only Black student in her classes, but she always persevered, powered by her keen interest in science. Her mother, Teresa Price, who greatly valued education, raised her on her own and encouraged her academic talents. Dr. Price’s research focused on studying microbial diseases with the hope of decreasing duck mortality. Needless to say, she was tremendously successful in achieving her goal–she created not one, but two vaccines! Her work has greatly advanced understanding on how to control avian diseases.

Dr. Jessie Isabelle Price was a veterinary trailblazer, and her story and success will always be an incredible inspiration for all of us who wish to change the world with our passions.

Now, for the surprise!

International Women’s Day ’22: Maya Angelou Rises

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” — Maya Angelou

Happy International Women’s Day! In honor of this day this year, I painted a portrait of Maya Angelou to celebrate her rippling impact on storytelling and society.

Maya Angelou Rises (2022)

Not only was she an activist and acclaimed author, she was an actor, a screenwriter, a dancer, a composer, the first Black woman director. She is a perfect example of what IWD is all about: women’s resilience, versatility, and empowerment. Having displayed incredible strength and perseverance throughout her life, Maya Angelou is someone that everybody can look towards to find inner strength. She inspires us all to have courage in what we do, to tell our stories as they were meant to be told, and to be the change we wish to see.

100% of the funds from this auction, excluding shipping and auction fees, will go towards Nova Ukraine’s Humanitarian Aid Fund, to provide aid and emergency care to refugees and citizens in the war zone in Ukraine.

Aside from the auction, you can also donate through shopping for prints, canvases, phone cases, stickers, and other products featuring my portrait here in my Redbubble shop!

Visit apoorvaartgallery.com/iwd for more information on how you can take part in the auction and to see my past work for IWD!

UPDATE: We ended up raising $7,000 for Nova Ukraine! Stay tuned for the 2023 International Women’s Day Auction in March.

Remember that it’s not just this month, but all year round that we should celebrate and learn about Black history and women’s history, because it IS history.

Until next time! If you found this interesting, make sure to follow me to stay updated on the next ones.

In the meantime, check out other articles in my column here! If you have any questions or comments, please email me at apoorvapwrites@gmail.com.

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As a reminder: this column, Gems in STEM, is a place to learn about various STEM topics that I find exciting, and that I hope will excite you too! Future columns may include social issues in STEM, its intersections with other subjects, and various other topics that are prominent in these fields. Thanks for reading!



Apoorva Panidapu
Geek Culture

Math, CS, & PoliSci @ Stanford. Advocate for youth & gender minorities in STEAM. Winner of Strogatz Prize for Math Communication & Davidson Fellows Laureate.