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From Mae C. Jemison to the late Ronald McNair, Black astronauts have made transformative contributions to the space exploration industry. NASA is on a mission to empower the next generation of STEM innovators at historically Black colleges and universities throughout the country.

Research shows 25 percent of Black scholars who earn STEM degrees are HBCU graduates. However, the space exploration field is still grappling with underrepresentation. Of the 350 astronauts who have traversed to space, only 15 were African American.

Aware of the gaps in accessibility to STEM education, the government agency has awarded $11.7 million to eight historically Black institutions through its Data Science Equity, Access, and Priority in Research and Education (DEAP) initiative. The funding will support the creation of curriculums and immersive learning experiences that are centered on artificial intelligence and machine learning. The goal is to elevate and expand STEM programs to create a pipeline of talent for “data-intensive space-based Earth sciences” careers.

Amongst the institutions that have received endowments are Bethune-Cookman University, Morgan State University, North Carolina Central University, Florida A&M University, Fayetteville State University, Prairie View A&M University, Lincoln University, and North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University.

Pam Melroy, who serves as NASA’s Deputy Administrator, says the effort will be instrumental in diversifying the industry. “We’re pleased to make progress through awards like this to intentionally build the STEM pipeline of the future, especially in communities of color,” she shared in a statement. “It’s fitting during Black History Month that we make this tangible step to build on the talent pool at HBCUs in our ongoing work to bring to the table all the talents and perspectives we’ll need to send humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, and do amazing science throughout the solar system.”

The endowment initiative comes nearly a year after NASA teamed up with the U.S. Department of Education to elevate the HBCU Scholar Recognition Program.


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