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Keynote Speaker Dr. Ebony McGee

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Dr. Ebony McGee, Vanderbilt University

 As a professor of diversity and STEM education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, Dr. McGee investigates what it means to be racially marginalized while minoritized in the context of learning and achieving in STEM higher education and in the STEM professions. She studies in particular the racialized structures and institutional barriers that adversely affect the education and career trajectories of underrepresented groups of color, particularly focusing on STEM entrepreneurship. This involves exploring the social, material, and health costs of academic achievement and problematizing traditional forms of success in higher education, with an unapologetic focus on Black folx in these places and spaces. Her National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant investigates how marginalization undercuts success in STEM through psychological stress, interrupted STEM career trajectories, impostor phenomenon, and other debilitating race-related trauma for Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx doctoral students.

Education is her second career; she left a career in electrical engineering to earn a PhD in mathematics education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Chicago, and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship at Northwestern University. With funding from eleven NSF grants, she cofounded and directs the Explorations in Diversifying Engineering Faculty Initiative or EDEFI (pronounced “edify”). She also cofounded the Institute in Critical Quantitative and Mixed Methodologies Training for Underrepresented Scholars (ICQCM), which aims to be a go-to resource for the development of quantitative and mixed-methods skillsets that challenge simplistic quantifications of race and marginalization. ICQCM receives support from the NSF, The Spencer Foundation, and the W. T. Grant Foundation.

Her latest research explores the relationship between STEM innovation and entrepreneurship, whose infrastructure requires enhancements to support a more diverse population of founders and business owners in STEM. She is part of the research team for National GEM Consortium’s Inclusion in Innovation Initiative (i4), which is a $3.5 million cooperative partnership with the NSF to develop a national diversity and inclusion infrastructure for the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program. This program supports academic researchers in launching successful tech startups through entrepreneurial training, particularly translating their research discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Her first solo-authored book is entitled Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation

Her research has been featured in prominent media outlets, including The Atlantic, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Nature Human Behaviour and Cancer, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Higher Education Today, NPR’s Codeswitch, The Hechinger Report, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, US News & World Report, Inside Higher Education, Tennessean, Washington Monthly, and The UK Voice Online.

Visit the EDEFI website at

Visit the ICQCM website at

LinkedIn Page:

Twitter handle: @Relationshipgap

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Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Structural Inclusion in STEM Courses and the Case for Afrofuturism

Saturday May 7, 2022 1:00 - 2:00 pm (SMSU South - Fourplex)

Professor Ebony McGee will explore three objectives in her workshop:

  1. To document the exclusion of people of color in STEM education and in the field in the United States (the West?).
  2. To advocate for increasing diversity and equity in STEM education through structural inclusion and changes in STEM curriculums. 
  3. To make the case for Afrofuturism as a literature of liberation especially efficacious in encouraging the expansion of STEM in the African diaspora and among people of color.

Full Abstract

Those who lead industry and educational institutions and particularly those who teach need to acknowledge that their own STEM education is characterized by (1) the exclusion of non-Whites from positions of power, which almost completely erases Indigenous theories and contributions to STEM; (2) the development of a White frame that organizes STEM ideologies and normalizes White racial superiority; (3) the historical construction of a curricular model based on the thinking of White elites, thus disregarding minoritized cultures that contributed to STEM globally; and (4) the assertion that knowledge and knowledge production are neutral, objective, and unconnected to power relations. STEM education and occupations were designed to attract White men who are heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian or atheist, middle class and upper class, and, more recently, Asian groups designated as acceptable. Therefore, the curriculum and products of this culture contribute to an inhospitable environment for students, faculty, and employees who do not fit these criteria. While providing examples that deconstruct these biases in the classroom, I propose a bold shift to the incorporation of Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism is one way to reimagine STEM for diverse learners and learnings. Afrofuturism is defined as the intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation, a way of imagining possible futures through a Black/Afrocentric cultural lens. We believe Afrofuturism has a unique role in transforming Black urban educational spaces, particularly in science and technology, that inevitably improves the synergy between Black students’ will toward justice and STEM as a vehicle toward that end. The Black social reality is overdetermined. Statistics put us at the bottom of the well, along with our educational, financial, and medical well-being, thereby creating a sort of demoralizing doomsday outcome for the future of Black people. But there is another world, first envisioned in “Black to the Future,” a phrase coined by Mark Dery in a 1994 essay on sc-fi. Afrofuturism serves as Black speculative fiction and signification, fused with intelligent science and technological conjectures. Afrofuturism has been invoked to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past.

The power of Afrofuturism is twofold: (1) as POC we can see ourselves in the future, alive (a key point, as it’s rare to see Black families and communities thriving in mainstream sci-fi and science) and playing important roles in the STEM knowledge-making process, (2) and Afrofuturism makes racism and other isms visible by exposing the dehumanizing tendencies of the dominant group (often White people) on the nondominant group (often POC and aliens). The power and capital that currently exist in the STEM arena is manifested in part through science fiction that offers mathematical formalizations such as computer simulations, economic projections, weather reports, futures trading, think-tank reports, and the like. Both historical and modern version of the future are shown through futuristic descriptions of science fiction in which technologists and engineers are almost always White or, secondarily, Asian. Thus, most science fiction replicates the racism, sexism, classism, and other discriminatory attitudes that exist in our current reality. Afrofuturism’s priority is to recognize that people and places of the African diaspora are vital parts of the future, too, and some Afrofuturists claim that they will be the correctors of history in the future.

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Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation

Friday May 6, 2022 2:30 - 4:00 pm (CGI-210). Attend virtually by registering via Zoom.

Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation brings together more than ten years of research on high-achieving, underrepresented racially minoritized (URM) students, faculty, administrators, entrepreneurs, and professionals in STEM fields. This research is grounded in a deep appreciation of what it means to be a STEMer of color. It means being academically successful in contexts where people of color are few, and negative beliefs about their ability and motivation persist. I explore questions such as: How do some URM people manage to survive racialized academic climates, and what does STEM achievement cost them? Why do institutions continue to recruit URM people into STEM disciplines where the climate and culture regularly drive them away? How does excluding people of color from STEM disciplines limit innovation?

My research revealed that the most persistent forms of stress STEMers of color reported was not associated with academic demands. Rather, racial and race gendered stereotyping influence their daily interactions with others, which becomes cognitively intrusive and creates constant tension in their academic and professional lives. The impact of being successful yet marginalized manifests in mental and physical health difficulties. It disrupts STEM career trajectories, and leads to minority status stress, impostor phenomenon, and other problems.

My emergent research looks toward engineering and computing (EC) entrepreneurship. I co-developed the term equity ethic to describe how URM EC folks are attracted to entrepreneurship through a principled concern for equity and justice. My current research explores entrepreneurship as a field of expression for the equity ethic and as a source of prosperity for the United States and the global community. URM entrepreneurs also seek self-empowerment through pursuing STEM business ownership and the professoriate. I will highlight preliminary results of our recent survey entitled Supporting Innovations and Diversity among Entrepreneurs (SIDE). This research reveals the challenges for URM graduate-level STEM students and alumni, and identifies best practices in URM entrepreneurship. Results from the SIDE survey will reveal the surprising role of the equity ethic and how it functions as a motivator for URM EC entrepreneurship.

I argue for sustainable actions that create equitable and inclusive contexts in which URM STEMers can feel a sense of belonging; where they are fully authentic, culturally expressed, and can see themselves as thriving in their chosen disciplines. There is a need for supports designed for URM people in STEM, supports that go beyond ensuring their mere survival in the pipeline and that help them to flourish and to feel like valued members of their disciplines. These supports include a race-conscious acknowledgement of the challenges URM STEM students, faculty, and entrepreneurs face; and they entail the willingness of institutions and departments to confront their racial discrimination, stereotyping, and hostile environments. The solutions do not involve fixing the URM people; rather, I place the burden of change on STEM institutions and their racialized cultures.

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