Letting Voices Be Heard

James West is the child of one of the women known as the Human Figures working for NASA and famous for the movie by the same name. He was typical of many engineers as a child in that he engaged taking apart appliances to see how they worked. He had a special interest in electronics and studied physics at Temple University. When he graduated, he went to work for Bell Labs.

While at Bell Labs, James West and Gerhard Sessler invented the electret microphone. The microphone was a major advancement of our existing microphone. Over 90 percent of the microphones in use today are based on the West/Sessler invention.

West has continued his career in invention and has over 250 patents. After retiring from Bell Labs at age 70, he became a research professor at Johns Hopkins University. He continues to invent.

In addition to his invention interests, he has been an advocate for diversity in STEM professions. One of these efforts is a fellowship program for students of color which has supported over 500 students.

For all of his accomplishments, he has been selected for the National Inventors Hall of Fame and has received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

The irony about James West’s career was that he was discouraged by his parents from pursuing a STEM career. His mother’s experience at NASA had raised concerns about racism in STEM professions. His successes have been a reputation of the lack of acceptance of people of color. Unfortunately, perceptions of suitability for certain professions still exist.

Just imagine how many people would have been discouraged from pursuing a career because of perceptions of their acceptance in that career field. How might we deal with those misconceptions? And how do we encourage people to pursue their passion? Our society needs to have everyone making the most use of their talents.

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            “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” – Camille Pissarro (Impressionist painter)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.