Black History in STEM: Celebrating Black Contributions To the World of Science and Beyond


Submitted by South Sound GREEN

The Thurston Education, Communication and Outreach (ECO) Network’s DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) Subcommittee is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting stories from pioneering Black researchers, activists, inventors and naturalists in the STEM fields (or BRAIN STEM for short) whose work has pushed us all closer towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

Throughout the month of February, the hashtag #brainstem will be used on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram as participating Thurston ECO Network organizations share posts about BRAIN STEM Heroes who have overcome great adversity to pursue their passion for learning about the natural world and seeking justice for marginalized communities.

These BRAIN STEM Heroes exhibit the power of community minded science to address the most pressing threats to the health of vulnerable populations. From profiling the “Father of Environmental Justice”, Robert Bullard, who conducted the first studies on environmental racism pertaining to toxic dumping in Black and Brown communities, to Roger Arliner Young’s life in the lab combatting the pressures of sexism and racism, and to Black youth Climate Justice activist Oladosu Adenike fighting against climate catastrophes the world over, these stories demonstrate a wide range of transformative work that Black people have contributed the world of science, yet have not adequately been given credit for. In sharing the accomplishments of these BRAIN STEM Heroes, we hope to reinforce their invaluable role in setting the foundation for entire fields of work in public health, climate science, marine biology, social justice, ethical and moral medical research, human rights, the protection of Earth’s ecosystems and so much more.


Join in the BRAIN STEM virtual campaign on February 25 at 5:30 p.m. for a salmon talk with local Black biologist Marisa Litz, a Research Scientist at the Department of Fish in Wildlife.

Marisa Litz (she/her) is a BIPOC research scientist in the Fish Program at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and leads the Coast Ecology and Life Cycle Monitoring Unit focused on Pacific salmon and steelhead. Marisa has 15 years of experience studying Pacific salmon ocean ecology and has sailed on several dozen research cruises in the northeastern Pacific, collaborating with researchers from NOAA Fisheries and Oregon State University. She earned a B.A. degree in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia in 1998, B.S. in Marine Science from the University of Maine in 2005, M.S in Fisheries Science at Oregon State University (OSU) in 2008, and Ph.D. in Fisheries Science from OSU in 2017. Marisa’s graduate studies were supported by the NOAA Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions. Marisa joined WDFW in 2017 and uses environmental indicators to forecast marine survival of Pacific salmon to help manage fisheries resources. She also oversees research that monitors how climate change affects freshwater production of Pacific salmon and steelhead, and will be discussing this and more at the virtual talk.

black history month BRAIN STEM 1
Photo courtesy: Elisa McGee

To learn more about Marisa’s work visit the check out ResearchGate or Scholar Google.

Tune in to the Estuarium’s Facebook account to watch the event over livestream. Viewers are encouraged to ask questions in the comments of the livestream, or email their questions in before the event to


Below are just a handful of the BRAIN STEM Heroes Thurston ECO Network organizations will be sharing throughout the course of Black History Month. Follow the hashtag #brainstem on Facebook and Instagram to view all of our BRAIN STEM Hero posts.

Wangari Maathai: Nobel Prize Winning Women’s Rights and Environmental Activist

black history month BRAIN STEM maathai
Photo courtesy: Elisa McGee

Check out Greenbelt Movement and YouTube to learn more about Wangari Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement.

Robert Bullard: The Father of Environmental Justice

black history month BRAIN STEM bullard
Photo courtesy: Elisa McGee

Check out this Grist article and the Dr. Robert Bullard website to learn more about Robert Bullard’s work in Environmental Justice.

Honoring Knowledge Outside of Academia: Why B.R.A.I.N?

By choosing to illuminate these Black pioneers, we can also provide important role models for our marginalized youth. Though many these BRAIN STEM Heroes are known for their amazing accomplishments like awards and degrees, by and large their stories start from a place of simply seeing a problem and resolving to make a positive change. Just like the work of figures like Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman who escape slavery and went on to produce revolutionary bodies of work as abolitionists, higher education is not a prerequisite to being capable of making positive change in our communities.

While STEM often denotes an association specifically with higher education, BRAIN STEM extends our reach to those Black individuals who conduct hands-on grassroots work outside of academic spaces, where the history of segregation is still impacting marginalized voices today.

There is no one way to engage with the STEM fields, and the intention of BRAIN STEM is to take into account the diverse ways in which Black people have found themselves interfacing with science, technology, engineering and math in their community-based work.

About the Thurston ECO Network

Thurston ECO Network is a community of education, communication, and outreach professionals committed to working collaboratively to protect and enhance the health and vitality of the Thurston County region. We serve as a resource for professionals, the public, and policymakers for environmental and sustainability issues in Thurston County. We serve the greater community through our programs, partnerships, and technical expertise.

To learn more about the Thurston ECO Network visit the Thurston Eco Network website.

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