Future Reflections  Fall 2006

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The Blind in the STEM Professions: Four Profiles

Editorís Note: The source for the following information is the Web portal for the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, a program of the NFB Jernigan Institute. For more great information about how to include blind youth in math and science, see http://www.blindscience.org/ncbys, or contact Mark Riccobono, Director of Education, Jernigan Institute, at mriccobono@nfb.org or (410) 659-9314.

There was a time when it was unthinkable to have a blind person working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics--the STEM fields--but that time is gone. Long gone. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has done much in recent years to incite STEM curiosity in young minds, and it is the blind professionals in these fields who stand as solid reminders that blindness is only another characteristic. The four men and women featured here have traversed the barriers once set up against the blind in STEM fields.

SCIENCE

Geerat VermeijDr. Geerat Vermeij earned his PhD in malacology from Yale University. He has been blind since age three, but that has not stopped him from earning a position as professor of marine ecology and paleoecology (a word most people donít even know the meaning of!) at the University of California, Davis Campus. The world has been his classroom with studies in Guam, the Philippines, the Galapagos and Aleutian Islands, Hawaii, and Canada; Dr. Vermeij has a unique understanding of his field that has students eagerly awaiting his every lesson.

TECHNOLOGY

Ameenah LippoldWomen are hard to come by in the STEM fields, making Ms. Ameenah Lippoldís accomplishments all the more praiseworthy. She is not quite thirty years old and has earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Illinois, made waves in the adaptive technology field, and organized the Goals for Achieving Math Accessibility (GAMA) Summit. Now, she works for the Defense Information Systems Agency where she continues promoting accessibility through enterprise architecture. Ms. Lippold was diagnosed with blindness at six years of age.

ENGINEERING

Nathanael WalesChildren love to use their hands whether they are touching, exploring, or building, and so does Nathanael Wales. Mr. Wales, now a civil engineer for the Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, has always loved building things. He was born blind and spent his childhood constructing and plotting his next move to be a great engineer. He earned his bachelorís degree in civil engineering from the University of California, Davis, and is a solid reminder that childhood dreams can come true with strong values and hard work.

MATHEMATICS

Robert SheltonYou donít have to be a genius to know when brilliance is nearby. Tackling multiple STEM fields, Dr. Robert Shelton, not only earned his PhD in mathematics from Rice University, he also completed his postdoctoral work at Princeton. He divides his time between teaching college and working as both a mathematician and computer scientist. Dr. Sheltonís work led him to aid in the development of MathTrax and the Math Description Engine (MDE) algorithm that helped the National Federation of the Blindís Rocket On! Science Academy students launch their first NASA rocket in 2004. Shelton became blind at age eleven after a failed surgery for congenital glaucoma.

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