Students attending the Meharry Data Science Summer Academy spent two weeks learning coding, robotics and NASA applications of programming and data science. On July 28, they enjoyed the unforgettable experience of meeting astronaut Dr. Sian Proctor, the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft.
Dr. Proctor — geoscientist, explorer, space artist, and astronaut — was the mission pilot for the Inspiration4 all-civilian orbital mission to space. She visited with each student individually, signed a copy of her book of space art and poetry, Space2Inspire, and shared her inspiring story as the pilot for Inspiration4 to more than 80 guests in the Cal Turner Center Ballroom. She then returned the following day for the academy graduation.
As she shared her story, Dr. Proctor remarked on the importance of representation in space exploration and creating a JEDI – just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive – space. She then landed a more grounded message with the attendees about creating that JEDI space on Earth.
“JEDI space is about how we all rise together in this new space,” says Dr. Proctor as she began to talk directly to the camp participants and other youth in attendance.
“What I want you to think about, especially all of you young kids in the audience. Is that you have this space to inspire. I am not talking about outer space. I am talking about the space you inhabit. There will only ever be one of you, and your space matters.”
She continued her message with a call for creating a JEDI space in their lives.
“Your passions, and what you do with it, matters. How you use your space to inspire those within your reach, and beyond, matters. And so, as you go on and do great things, I want you to think about your space to inspire and how you make this space a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive space in the process.”
The Meharry Data Science Summer Academy, including Dr. Proctor’s visit, was funded by NASA through the Minority University Research and Education project and provided to students at no cost. NASA’s goal is to support the dreams of students from traditionally underrepresented and underserved communities to enter careers in science, technology, engineering and math.