Their achievements of the past continue to help shape and define the essence of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) today. This is the legacy of such early innovators as: Benjamin Banneker, the mathematician who helped map out and plan the city of Washington, D.C.; Charles Drew, the surgeon who pioneered blood transfusion; Garret Morgan, who invented the gas mask and the modern traffic light; botanist George Washington Carver, whose innovations with the peanut and other plants continue to enrich our lives and made him a trusted science advisor to such luminaries as President Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Ford; and Marie Daly, the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry, and an early innovator in the study of heart disease.

In observance of African American History Month in February, the Festival recognizes the accomplishments of these and many other African American pioneers and the important role they have played in paving the way for modern-day African American STEM leaders and innovators, who include such inspiring role models as: Stephanie C. Hill, computer engineer and Vice President and General Manager of Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions Civil line of business; Benjamin Carson, the world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and medical researcher who was the first surgeon to successfully separate Siamese twins who had been conjoined at the head; and physicist Shirley Ann Jackson, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Also included in this esteemed cadre of achievers are members of the Festival’s X-STEM Symposium and Nifty Fifty (times 4) school speakers program, which represents 200 of the nation’s most engaging, high-profile leaders in STEM. As we celebrate African American History Month, we’d like to introduce you to key African American STEM innovators in the program who will be engaging students in the coming weeks about their work and careers in STEM during visits to middle and high schools throughout the Washington, D.C. metro area.

These exciting X-STEM and Nifty Fifty speakers include:

X-STEM Speakers

Reginald Brothers – From detecting and responding to national security matters such as cyber hacking and bioterrorism, discover how this leader as Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is using the latest in science to keep America safe!

James McLurkin – This dynamic young robotics innovator, who was named one of Time magazine’s top 5 engineers, is known for developing the promising new genre of robotics called “ant robots” based on inspiration from his ant farm. Discover how these ant robots are providing exciting insights into artificial intelligence and the connection between engineering and biology!

Baratunde “Bara” Cola, Ph.D. – This professor of Mechanical Engineering and former college football star was recently honored by President Obama as one of the nation’s promising young innovators for his groundbreaking work in the emerging scientific field of exploiting energy transport processes at the nanoscale. Discover why he feels nano-engineered energy technology is the next exciting frontier!

Kimberly Sellers – Let this trailblazing statistician and mathematician demonstrate how the power of Statistics is making a difference globally in a wide range of areas — from helping scientists track incidence of disease and population trends to understanding the stock market and migratory patterns of whales, birds and other wildlife!

Nifty Fifty Speakers

Frederic Bertley – In his career, he helped develop an HIV vaccine at Harvard and led life-saving health improvements in Haiti and The Sudan. Now discover how he is using that same spirit to ignite science discovery excitement at the renowned Franklin Institute!



Roscoe Giles – This high-profile theoretical physicist at Boston University has made a career of using sophisticated parallel computers to solve some of the most daunting problems in physics and materials science. But learn why he is also nationally recognized for another pursuit: working in dynamic ways to increase the number of women and minorities in computational science and other STEM areas!


Kenneth Olden – Our environment is possibly more important than genetics in determining our health, says this prominent environmental scientist. As a director with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he is leading an effort to combine science with active community engagement in empowering citizens to take more control of environmental factors that impact human health.

Barbara McAllister – As Director of Global Strategic Initiatives at Intel Foundation she oversees key grants designed to inspire more women and underserved students in STEM careers. You’ll cheer as this engineer tells who inspired her as a child in STEM!

Darryll Pines– Learn from this “can do” engineer and Dean of the prestigious Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland what America must do to maintain its global leadership in engineering. In addition, discover how many visionary approaches that he has led and implemented are already bearing fruit in attracting and retaining engineering students.

James West – This acoustical scientist is world-known for his invention of the foil electret microphone. Learn how he turned his childhood fascination with electricity into a career as a world-class innovator in acoustics!