CALLING: Physician and astronaut
WHY WE’RE SALUTING HER:Mae Jemison is a physician and NASA astronaut who became the first black woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. Jemison, who was born in Decatur, GA, grew up in Chicago, and even as a young girl knew that she would eventually travel into space. Her inquisitive mind quickly became fascinated with science and nature, although interestingly, she proved to be both left- and right-brained, taking up all forms of dance from African, ballet, and jazz, to modern and even Japanese at age 11. After honing her skills for several years, Jemison was faced with the difficult decision of choosing to go to medical school in New York or become a professional dancer. That’s when her mother told her, “You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t be a doctor if you’re a dancer.”
Jemison listened to her mother and enrolled at Stanford University at just 16 years old. In 1977, she received a B.S. in chemical engineering and a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies. In 1981, she obtained her medical degree from Cornell Medical College and interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center before working as a general practitioner. During medical school, Jemison traveled to Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand to provide primary medical care to people living there, which led to her joining the Peace Corps and serving as a Peace Corps Medical Officer from 1983 to 1985, having responsibility for the health of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone. While at Cornell, Jemison also took lessons in modern dance at the Alvin Ailey school and later built a dance studio in her home and choreographed and produced several shows of modern jazz and African dance.