Culture News

Dr. Jennifer Blum: Education and Equality

February 19, 2021

LMI Staff

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Jennifer Blum

Growing up as a Black girl in New York City, I was fortunate to experience the wonders of diversity. New York City is a melting pot of many different cultures and backgrounds. As a child, my parents encouraged me to follow my passions, which included science and mathematics. I was known in elementary school for asking questions. This was mostly a good thing, except when I asked a series of questions right before recess, to the dismay of my classmates. I always wondered why things are the way they are and how things work and function.

When I was 12, I went to a private school in the suburbs. While I loved my classes, I experienced an interesting sort of isolation. The school was predominately white, and I noticed my classmates tended to group by race. However, I didn’t fit into any of the groups, even the Black ones. I self-identified as a “nerd,” which made me an outcast to most. It wasn’t until I got older that I found other nerds and realized that what meant the most to me was finding people who loved academia and learning the way I did. Race didn’t matter. My group of friends were all different races and backgrounds, and I learned so much from each of them.

In 2011, I became the second Black woman in the history of the University of Michigan to graduate with a PhD in astrophysics. Up until a few years ago, I was also the only Black woman during the last 10 years to achieve that degree in the United States. I deeply respected Dr. Beth Brown, the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Michigan with a doctorate in astrophysics. She passed away in 2008 at a young age, but not before touching hearts and minds with her brilliance and kindness.

My success comes from like-minded individuals who, regardless of race, supported and mentored me. Black History Month reminds me how fortunate I am to have had such amazing opportunities. Those who fought for equality paved the road for me to forge friendships across racial boundaries and have allowed me to be judged by the content of my character. While I was only the second astrophysics doctoral graduate from the University of Michigan, I will not be the last.

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