If/Then She Can exhibit at NorthPark Center: A conversation with Jennifer Stimpson

STEM educator Jennifer Stimpson stands in front of an orange statue molded to represent her as an inspiring woman in science and education. – Photo courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies



The Dallas Examiner


“If we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world,” is the mantra of the #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit unveiled at NorthPark Center. The exhibit, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies supporting women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, was designed to inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM.

Rooted in the belief that seeing is believing, this first-of-its-kind exhibit represents the most women statues ever assembled in one location at one time. It displays more than 120 life-sized statues of female STEM professionals representing a variety of industries including science, technology, engineering, academia, business, entertainment and sports. Referred to them as ambassadors. The ambassadors were selected to serve as high-profile role models that would share their stories.

One ambassador, Jennifer Stimpson, was featured for her work as a STEM teacher and chemist. Stimpson grew up outside of the Singing Hills neighborhood in Oak Cliff. She attended Atwell Middle School and graduated from Bishop Dunne Catholic School.

“As an Oak Cliff girl, I was always proud of just where I was from and where I lived and just always engaged in what’s happening in my community … just a ride or die O’Cliffer,” she said.

After graduating from high school, Stimpson attended Dillard University where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She then attended the University of Northern Iowa where she earned a master’s degree in environmental chemistry and made history as the first African American woman to graduate with an advanced STEM degree from the university. She continued her graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Stimpson’s father, known to the community as Stimp, was the first Black pharmacist to be hired by Target in Dallas. He went on to open his own pharmacy in West Dallas called Cut Rate Pharmacy. Stimpson’s mother was also a pharmacist. The two met in pharmacy school and worked together at Methodist Hospital.

“His legacy is definitely seeped into the work that I have done because I learned how to be a scientist from both my parents,” Stimpson said.


Stimpson’s journey into a career of education

Stimpson stated that a career in education was not originally a part of her plans.

“So many times, people are embarrassed or they don’t want to talk about their experiences … but I tried to get into medical school and I didn’t make it,” she admitted. “And I was even in graduate school, hoping to go to medical school, but I didn’t make it. I did not score high enough on the MCAT to be a competitive candidate and so, I was always waitlisted. My career to become a teacher actually began after I became a scientist.”

After earning her graduate degree, Stimpson gained a position with the Drug Enforcement Administration as a forensic chemist. She stated that from there, her trajectory into education began, from a professional scientist’s perspective.

“I never wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t have teachers in my family, not even in my extended family. So, we did not come from a family of education background. Both of my parents were the first people, in their respective families, to graduate from college,” she explained. “That was a big jump for them. For me, for families they tell you, you have to go higher than your parents, so that’s what I thought I had to do. But if someone was to ask me right now or if God was to come down right now or a genie in a bottle, and say, ‘I will make you a doctor today’ … I would turn it down because that’s not my calling …

“I had to settle with that because a lot of that journey was a little bit about my parents’ dream for me, but it wasn’t my dream. I did not dream to be an education person, a teacher, but it became part of the journey that was designed for me. So, I cannot see myself in any other field. It’s been a tremendous opportunity and all that I am and all that I have, I owe to my parents. But my experiences and who I am professionally, all centered in the fact that I am a teacher.”

The one thing that Stimpson said she loves most about teaching is the diversity of the students.

“The one thing that I do like about the diversity is that we can all sit down together and talk about something that is universal…and that is science. Even if you come to the table from a variety of different backgrounds, culturally, racially, social economically, politically, science is universal because it doesn’t matter what language you speak or what party relation you have, two plus two will be four … What I love most is the diversity of thought,” she said.


The #IfThenSheCan exhibit

Stimpson expressed elation in being selected as one of the women STEM professionals for the #IfThenSheCan exhibit.

“Anyone who knows me knows that every other word is science out of my mouth and I just always want audiences to be aware of it in their daily lives … since being one of the women, my conversation about women in science has just amplified,” she said.

Stimpson said she was already a woman in science, a Black woman doing science and a minority woman working in the field of STEM – and all were three separate journeys for her. But being part of the exhibit created a place for her journeys to become one full story.

“And I can tell that story being a woman in science because there were other women who look like me,” she continued. “There were other women who came from similar backgrounds as me, education. There were women who had trajectories who mimic mine. I didn’t start off as being a teacher, I was a banker or I was an attorney, or I was a congresswoman, and I decided to be a scientist. So, our journeys into science are also similar.

“Having the connection with other women, whose journeys or who’s race or who’s ideology, or even whose interests are the same, then the story became universal because the hundreds of us all share the same story … that science is important, and we want to make sure girls can see themselves in us.”

Stimpson hoped that after visiting the exhibit, people would take away that science is possible and that everyday women are doing amazing things.

“The thing that I want to normalize about the exhibit is that we often either hear STEM, and folks don’t often know what that means, I don’t care who your audience is. And then we often hear science and people often think traditional lab coat person doing research or they often even think doctors,” she said. “But what this exhibit does, is that it shows that there are a variety of different types of scientists. And that is what I love about it.”


The color orange

Stimpson explained that the color orange was chosen for the exhibit because it’s the favorite color of the exhibit’s creator, Nicole Small.

“I actually like the fact that it’s orange, because if we think about what the primary colors that make orange, it’s red and yellow. Red, of course, centers at the blood, so it’s the heartbeat. If we think of red being blood and pumping the heart and yellow is the sunshine. If you take blood and the sunshine, you create the soul. So, the fact that it’s orange when I saw orange, I think about how I learned about primary colors growing up. Orange is the combination of all the goodness,” Stimpson commented.


A word of advice

Stimpson advised anyone with an interest in a career in education or working with children to consider their tolerance level and willingness to sacrifice their time.

“If you don’t have the patience or the capacity, it’s not a calling for you. Education goes deeper than just teaching. It comes from a place of sacrifice,” she said, pointing out the long work hours, before and after school.

“You’re constantly working to improve lessons so you can improve outcomes,” she continued. “And the outcome is the takeaway that kids leave your space more engaged than whatever it is you taught them.”

She said teachers couldn’t be stagnant. They have to be willing to constantly evolve and think about themselves as a lifelong learner – including veteran teachers – in order to evolve in how and what they teach, and inspire the next generation. Otherwise, “what are you doing?”

Stimpson also encouraged youth that wish to pursue a career in the field of science, to visit the exhibit for inspiration. She also urged them to talk to their science teacher and ask about their options, as well as participate in different science outreach programs and platforms.

For an adult that wishes to pursue a career in science, she recommended they connect with someone in the profession to explore career options.

“Find that profession that you’re interested in and what is it about the profession that interests you. Because for kids, it’s still that task, it’s still that doing the work. But what people have to remember is that science, although it’s an agency course, that means doing it. What science is, it’s a lot of analyzing, because you can’t make a final decision unless you’ve tasked so much that you can make a final opinion,” she said.

“It’s also knowing, there’s a lot of failure in science. And a lot of people think that because scientists make a lot of money, that they must be skilled at whatever their craft is. You’re skilled for successes, but as we know, success just doesn’t happen one time. You can’t just do one thing – do one mixtape and hold all your money on the gram. You have to do 15 more mixtapes to keep the money on the gram. You have to do that multiple times.”

Stimpson said being a professional scientist is difficult. One of the most difficult aspects is accepting failure on a daily basis, which she said most people don’t want to do. However, she said that all of the 120 women in the exhibit have a combined 400,000 failures. Which is ok, because failure don’t me they are not at the top in their profession, especially for women and minorities.

“That means that your boss denied you tenure or because you’re a woman, they didn’t include your work in the research, or contrary, they did include your work and didn’t give you credit. Or, because you’re a woman of color, they didn’t even invite you to the meeting, or you were invited to the meeting and you were standing there but you weren’t able to speak on your own work,” she pointed out. “Failure doesn’t mean that your experiment failed, but failure means that your voice was not part of the conversation.”


Stimpson’s current work and upcoming projects

Currently, Stimpson is working on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C., completing a one-year congressional fellowship working on STEM policy and legislation.

“I hope that once I leave here, I can come back and be a mouthpiece for a bunch of different things. I have goals and dreams of things that I want to do when I leave here,” Stimpson stated.

Updates on her projects can be found on her on Twitter and Instagram pages at jstempscience or at http://jstempscience.com.

The #IfThenSheCan exhibit will be on display at the Dallas NorthPark Center through October 2021.


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