The University Record, January 24, 1994

Keys to success? Education, parental encouragement

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

Mae C. Jemison says education and parental encouragement made it possible for a young girl from South Chicago to grow up to become an entrepreneur, engineer, scientist, physician and former astronaut—all before the age of 40.

“Education was the enabling factor that allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do,” Jemison told a group of several hundred engineering students and faculty. Jemison’s speech was part of the College of Engineering’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

Jemison encouraged the students to take responsibility for their education and demand the most from university life. “Everything you learn here will be important to you,” she said. “So explore all the possibilities. Take classes that stretch you. Get involved with research projects. Take part in extracurricular activities that develop leadership skills.”

Jemison characterized the status of education in the United States today as “abysmal.” “We cannot let our public school system continue to decline,” she said. “Our children learn very quickly that education is not important to our society, because the government can find money to spend on everything else.”

Defining the words at the heart of science to be “I think, I wonder and I understand,” Jemison claimed that 60 percent to 70 percent of the answers to society’s problems will come from science and technology.

“Education prepares us to take advantage of all the chances we get in life,” Jemison concluded. “If you spend each precious second of every day learning, growing and achieving, you can have everything you desire.”

The first African American woman to go into space, Jemison was the science mission specialist on NASA’s September 1992 Spacelab mission aboard the shuttle Endeavour. She received her B.S.E. in chemical engineering from Stanford University and her M.D. from Cornell University Medical School. A practicing physician and former Peace Corps medical officer, Jemison recently established an advanced technologies research and development firm called The Jemison Group.