By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, for the Dallas Morning News
Across the nation, Americans innovate every day.
But innovation and ingenuity do not occur only in our national labs, universities, or scientific agencies. A major source of our society’s capacity for creativity and ingenuity, in fact, lies among underserved communities and communities of color. Tragically, these same communities have been hit first and hardest by some of the greatest challenges we face in this country, from extreme weather and air pollution to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Americans living in underserved communities have had to innovate to navigate and overcome these challenges. Their enterprising spirit and thirst for knowledge to build a better future for all are strong, and expanding opportunities in STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math, will help them to fully harness that ability and drive.
Here in Texas, we are facing consequences of severe weather impacting our power grid; longer and more extreme hurricane seasons; and long-term consequences of pollution like coal ash. Unfortunately, in states around the country, there are countless stories of under-resourced communities fighting to recover from compounding effects due to multiple climates and severe weather events.
We must work to address the vicious cycle of systemic injustices and inequities holding these communities back and support and empower them in their pursuit of the future they desire and deserve.
While it falls on rising generations to think innovatively on how science and emerging technologies can help create a society that is more prosperous, secure, equitable, and environmentally conscious, it falls on us, the policymakers, to ensure they have the tools to succeed. We need to invest in programs that promote the education and training of the next generation of science and engineering leaders.
As chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I am often asked about the future of innovation and American leadership in STEM. Imagining the future of our nation’s scientific enterprise is impossible without recognizing that the innovators of tomorrow are today’s young students from across the country, from different communities, different backgrounds, and different socio-economic statuses.
Throughout my career in Congress, one of my top priorities has been the education and training of the next generation of STEM professionals, especially those who have for too long been marginalized in STEM-related fields. That is why I introduced a number of bills that support capacity building at historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions; address challenges at all levels of education in STEM, and advance research and policy solutions to lower barriers to equity in STEM studies and careers. I am proud to say that all of these bills passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this year.
Last year, I was honored that the new Wilmer Elementary School was dedicated in my name as Eddie Bernice Johnson Elementary School. And last month, I was proud to learn that Eddie Bernice Johnson Elementary School has officially received approval to become an innovation choice school for STEM education.
As we look to the future, we need to build on the successes we see each day. Earlier this month, I was inspired by 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde, from New Orleans. Zaila won the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee, a remarkable achievement after placing 370th in the 2019 competition. That accomplishment should be celebrated. Zaila is the first African American to ever win the 96-year-old competition. It is on us to make sure she is not the last.
My vision for the future of America is one in which there are opportunities for people in every community to create a brighter future for themselves and for the world. We need to remove barriers so there are fewer firsts and more celebration of the norm, of girls and boys from all walks of life succeeding in academia. A diverse workforce of scientists who accurately reflect the remarkable diversity in the United States. To make sure that innovation is more accessible to everyone, everyone must have the opportunities they deserve to achieve their own American dream.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is in her 15th term representing Dallas in the U.S. House. She is chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the first female and African American to hold the position. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
Source: Press Release
Date: August 5, 2021