March 27, 2002

Jemison M.D. '81 Talks On Education's Future

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Mae Jemison M.D. ’81, who has been a chemical engineer, an astronaut, a physician, a dancer, an actor, a small business owner and an educator, presented a lecture last night in her newest role as the President’s Council of Cornell Women A.D. White Professor at Large.

The lecture, entitled “ the Future” focused on art, science, engineering, education and their future.

Jemison, who describes herself as a “short term optimist and a long term pessimist” sees a problem with the perceived differences between art and sciences if we are to advance as a society in the future.

According to Jemison, future advances depend on current research and “if we look at the future 20 years from now, we have a lot of work to do now.”

Jemison believes that people don’t consider art as being very logic based and the sciences as being very creative. As a result, this view stymies development as people aren’t as willing to go into those areas and suffer being labeled under a stereotype.

“The difference between the arts and sciences isn’t that one is analytical and the other is intuitive,” Jemison said. “I see them as the same thing. They are the manifestations of the same thing. They spring from our creativity.”

This view has helped her pursue her wide ranging interests, such as becoming an astronaut and a dancer, while others tried to persuade her to just focus on one area.

“Must I narrow down my interests to satisfy others?” Jemison asked.

Jemison said she refused to narrow her interests and encouraged the audience to follow her role because people with a wide variety of interests are needed to solve problems and advance society.

During her lecture, Jemison also suggested that for society to continue advancing, we also need to increase our understanding and provide resources to do research.

Specifically, Jemison stressed our need to increase the amount of art and science education in grades K-12 so that future artists and scientists may be able to solve the challenges faced by society.

Furthermore, to increase the resources for research, she told the audience that we need to stop wasting our current resources.

According to Jemison, almost every country, including the US, spends more money on destructive weapons than on health-care and education.

“Research only proceeds with the support of society,” Jemison said. “It is up to the public to let their will be known,” she added.

She concluded by encouraging the audience to spend their time productively.

“While our time is limited, it has infinite possibilities,” she said.

The audience seemed to enjoy the lecture and many stayed at the end to chat with Jemison one-on-one.

“I enjoyed the lecture a lot. [It was] very interesting,” said Louise Parsons grad, who attended because she too had wanted to be an astronaut when she was younger.

Charles Stewart grad said, “I think the thing that I absorbed the most from her was that you can’t let people define who you are,” and considered Jemison’s life accomplishments to be “phenomenal.”

Archived article by Luke Hejnar