Who is a Scientist?

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education offers a pathway to a better life.  This statement especially resonates as truth while we remember the achievements of Dr. Percy Julian, a preeminent chemist of the 20th century.

Today, few young people pause to consider that African Americans, in parts of the U.S., are one generation removed from being encouraged to end their educational pursuits after the 8th grade; but even fewer know of the “fight” Julian fought for most of his life in order to pursue a lifelong inquiry into the chemistry of plants so that his research would improve the quality of life for everyday people.

“In much of my life, I’ve had to pick up the broken fragments of chance and turn them into opportunity.” – Dr. Percy Julian

Born and reared during Jim Crow – a system of racial segregation practiced in Southern states who formed the Confederacy – Julian’s journey to attain his doctorate in chemistry and his contribution to humanity for his pioneering work in the synthetic production of cortisone – a drug widely used by patients with debilitating arthritis – will inspire everyone to believe that the pursuit of education and excellence will lead to personal, professional and societal advancement.

If Percy Julian could become, according to PBS, a “genius” of the 20th century, in the face of fierce, systemic opposition, then surely, in this 21st century, with STEM education, our young people can attain greater societal advancements. Watch, learn, share and be inspired by Dr. Percy Julian’s story.

“Who is a scientist?” is part 2 on our “On Being a Scientist” series of articles exploring the culture and practice of science in the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 3.

Further reading: On Being a Scientist, National Academy Press

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