Study math, science, astronaut tells youths

February 02, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

In a packed lounge at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday, the first black woman to soar into space urged a host of enthusiastic children to study math and science and warned their parents not to take those fields lightly.

Mae C. Jemison complained that parents often are distressed when their children come home with bad grades in subjects like history or geography but don't mind when their children do poorly in technology-related classes.

"They say it's all right because everyone can't do math and science," said Dr. Jemison, who flew aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor last year. "That is nonsense. If you can't do trigonometry, you can't do differential equations. And if you can't do differential equations, the shuttle is going to sit on the launch pad. It isn't going anywhere."

Dr. Jemison was the keynote speaker at BWI's second annual African Americans in Aviation Day, a kickoff for Black History Month that attracted nearly 250 people.

The children, mostly from elementary schools in Washington and Prince George's County, said they learned from Dr. Jemison that heroes don't always show up on television in sporting events.

"You can be famous if you're just yourself," said Antoinette Martin, 11, a sixth-grader at Davis Elementary School in Washington. "You can be a male or a female and be an astronaut or a doctor."

The airport's celebration of Black History Month includes a monthlong exhibit in one of the main lounges with displays, photographs and plaques designed to highlight the contributions of blacks to aviation in Maryland and the United States.

"Until I went to the exhibit last year, I had no idea all the tremendous accomplishments African-Americans made in aviation," said O. James Lighthizer, state secretary of transportation.

Mr. Lighthizer said the event "celebrated opportunity," but other speakers said there still is work to be done to ensure equal opportunity for blacks and other minorities in aviation.

"The tragedy is that opportunity and fairness did not occur simultaneously," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Maryland Democrat. "We need foresight, determination and support to make it in this world."

Dr. Jemison said the United States must "ensure we include all people in this society" if it is to continue to lead with world in aviation.

"We can only do that if we start early," she insisted. "A lot of people get afraid when we talk about science," she said. "There are a lot of strange words. But they are only words. They are part of the language."

She said science can open doors to understanding and produce solutions. Dr. Jemison reminded the students that they must not lose their desire to learn.

"Aviators are just people," Dr. Jemison said. "Just like all of you, they started out as children. But when they grew up, they didn't lose their motivation and their energy."

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