“Who will do science? That depends on who is included in the talent pool. The old rules do not work in the new reality. It’s time for a different game plan that brings new players in off the bench.” These sentences were written by this week’s WiSE honoree, Dr. Shirley M. Malcom, almost 20 years ago, but their relevance has not diminished. For Shirley, these are not just empty words; rather, they reflect a driving force for a life’s work in science policy. As a female African American, she knows firsthand the difficulties that women and minorities face in STEM and she has devoted her life to reducing the obstacles preventing these demographics from entering and thriving in STEM fields.
Born in Alabama in 1946, Shirley entered college with the goal of becoming a doctor. However, when she realized how segregation had cheated her out of a quality primary education, she became interested in mentoring minority students. Initially pursuing this passion as a teacher, both at the high school and university levels, an internship at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) introduced her to the importance of science policy. At the AAAS, she led an investigation into the discrimination faced by women minorities, resulting in the landmark report “The Double Bind” in 1976. She went on to serve as head of the AAAS Office of Opportunities in Science, program officer in the Science Education Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and a member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. In her current position as Head of Education and Human Resources Programs at AAAS, she oversees initiatives to promote participation of underrepresented groups in STEM and increase public science literacy. In 2003, she was awarded the National Academy of Sciences’ highest award, the Public Welfare Medal. In addition to her work in the U.S., she serves as co-chair of GenderInSITE, an international program that promotes the inclusion of women in science policy and leadership in Africa and Latin America.
While women and minorities continue to face obstacles in STEM, significant advances have been made thanks to the work of Shirley, and her policies will help lead the way towards a more diverse STEM workforce in the years to come. Whether working from the grassroots up or the top down, we all can follow in Shirley’s footsteps and pave a path to a STEM field that reflects the amazing diversity of this planet. So, who will do science tomorrow? It depends on our actions today.