Life at Fionta

Honoring Black pioneers in STEM

During Black History Month 2023, we are sharing information about Black innovators who influenced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and without whom many ubiquitous technologies would not exist.

Roy L Clay: 1929 – Present

It’s the first week of Black History Month, and we would like to introduce you to the “godfather of Black Silicon Valley,” Roy L. Clay. In the late 1960s, Clay helped found the computer division of Hewlett-Packard. His tech journey began when he taught himself to code and landed a job at Lawrence Livermore Labs, where he met David Packard, and the rest is history.

More profound is his influence, inspiring multiple generations of African Americans to enter the tech industry. Roy was highly active in the community with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, and “while at HP, he established programs to help African Americans get into Silicon Valley.” He is now retired to his home state of Missouri, but his impact is immense. Learn more about Roy at the Palo Alto History Museum.

Dorothy Vaughan: 1910 – 2008

Meet the woman many know as one of NASA’s “human computers,” Dorothy Vaughan. This incredible woman from the 2017 film Hidden Figures may be familiar to you. 

Vaughn began her career as a high school math teacher. During WWII, she was hired in, what was initially, a temporary position at NACA (NASA’s former name). Her job was to calculate mathematical computations for engineers conducting aeronautical experiments. She ultimately became the first black supervisor, and when NACA became NASA, she was part of the new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD). Learn more about Vaughan and her remarkable career at NASA’s website.

Otis Boykin: 1920 – 1982

While you may not know of Otis Boykin, you are undoubtedly familiar with his work. Boykin invented the improved electrical resistor, used in many everyday electronic devices, including radios, televisions, and computers.

Boykin’s first patent for the resistor was said to be cheaper, easier to make, and much more durable, making it ideal for consumer goods and military applications. Other patents you may know of include the burglar-proof cash register and a chemical air filter. Boykin passed away in 1982 and was posthumously awarded 25 patents in 1985. Learn more about Otis Boykin’s life.

Dr. Gladys West: 1930 – Present

It’s the last week of Black History Month, meaning we only have one more story to share. Have you met the “Hidden Figure” who pioneered GPS technology, Dr. Gladys West? She studied mathematics at Virginia State College, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

West started her career as a teacher and then began working as a programmer on the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC). After a promotion to the Seasat team, she was part of a team who created a model of the earth called geoid, used to help develop the GPS we rely on today. Learn more about West’s contributions to science.

Fíonta is proud to work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and encourages readers to donate to the Fund and support future Black STEM education.

Explore more inspiring stories in Black history.