Dr. Mae Jemison has built her career by taking big risks in pursuit of helping others and bettering our world — while constantly searching for brand new ones for us to explore. In 1992, she became the first African-American woman to travel to space as a crew member on board the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Before her tenure as a NASA astronaut, Jemison practiced medicine across the world, and served as a medical officer in the Peace Corps, overseeing care in Sierra Leone and Liberia when she was just 26-years-old. The physician and engineer are also an educator. She taught environmental studies at Dartmouth University and is currently the lead ambassador for Bayer’s science literacy program Making Science Make Sense.
Collaboration is critical
The Alabama native says she believes that innovation cannot happen without cooperation between people who have different perspectives, disciplines, and backgrounds. She’s especially passionate about getting women engaged in STEM fields and careers. “One of the big issues is, how do women take their place at the table and [move] things forward? We have a tremendous amount of resources and power. We have to be willing to use it and not shy away from it,” Jemison told Entrepreneur. “Sometimes we sit back and allow others to sort of set the stage. We have to be willing to support each other. When somebody steps forward don’t just leave them standing there.” Entrepreneur spoke with Jemison about why you should turn to your younger self for advice during tough moments and how to find the fortitude to stand up for what you believe in.
Peace Corps medical officer
I applied for a position as a Peace Corps medical officer. I took care of Peace Corps volunteers and State Department personnel in Sierra Leone and Liberia for two and a half years. I was one of the youngest doctors they ever had in that position. I thought that those two and a half years we’re going to be throwaway years. Then I’d come back, and I’d get into biomedical engineering. But what it did was it gave me a lot of operational experience. I was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I had to make life-and-death decisions.
Taking big risks
My first two weeks in Sierra Leone, I had to call a military medical evacuation that cost over $80,000 to take care of a volunteer who was very ill. I had to be very forceful with some folks and [understand] that this was my ability and my authority to do this. That’s one of those things that sticks with you. Sometimes if I start to falter, I can look back at my 26-year-old self. My mantra was, my job is first and foremost for my patients, to the volunteers, and people’s health, and I will do my job. And I won Dr. Mae Jemison has built her career by taking big risks in pursuit of helping others and bettering our world — while always searching for brand new ones for us to explore.