Secret of Scientific success already in young people's hands: Oceanographer

Students from urban colleges were told that the secret to becoming a successful scientist may already be in their reach at a lecture from a pioneering American oceanographer on Monday.

An American Embassy speaker programme on 'Becoming a Scientist' featured Dr. Ashanti Johnson at the Nelson Library on Monday. 

She was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in oceanography from top American school Texas A&M. 

Dr. Johnson spoke on the wonders of choosing a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (S.T.E.M.) but stressed that in order to get to your dreams, you have to do the work.

Asked about some of the challenges Samoan students face with maths and how they can overcome them, Dr. Johnson said:

"One of the things that we have to do is take the internet that we use for other purposes and figure out how to maximise that use.

"So one of the things that [people] can do is obviously their worksheets but also people go on Youtube so much and that doesn’t even change when you get to university, because there might be people who are very talented researchers who are professors there but they might not communicate well.

"And so what I’ve seen at the universities that I’ve been a part of as well as the even youth groups and the after school programs is that there’s all this resources available online [not being used adequately]."

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She stressed that with the amount of information available online, no student should be saying they cannot do it: "It’s your responsibility to figure out how you can," she said. 

The prominent public intellectual said often students'' biggest obstacle is simply "putting your mind to it" from a very young age.

"One of the things that I believe is that all the students are capable; it’s just sometimes we don’t have those opportunities," she said.

"So one of the things I do is that I coach the students to speak up and say what they are interested in and if they keep sharing that with people, someone is going to hear and say: 'Oh, you want to be a C.E.O., well you can shadow me a day, let me talk to you about what I do.

"And so that’s the students commitment, their responsibility is actually speak up and make it known and us as people who have achieved those things, it’s our responsibility to help pull the others up."

Dr. Johnson is an American geo-chemist and chemical oceanographer. At three years old she knew she wanted to explore the ocean after being inspired by legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Dr. Johnson said those who have achieved their dreams have a responsibility to help others to do so.

"That’s how I grew up, so one of the slogans that we use is ‘Lift as we climb’ and so you do things for other people that you want done for you but it’s also the future generations," she said. 

"And so if you’re only focused on yourself then when you’ve passed, what are you leaving the planet to, what are we leaving our community to? 

"So if we want to continue to be successful and be able to build, we have to; it’s our responsibility to encourage other people and help them achieve as well."

Dr. Johnson is the first African American female chemical oceanographer and the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in oceanography from Texas A&M University. She is an internationally recognised expert and speaker on S.T.E.M. professional development, diversity and women in S.T.E.M. topics. 

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