STEM Around the Globe: USA
The field of STEM is an ever-changing industry that highlights many of the world’s brightest people. In this section of STEM10, we will dive deep into the most innovative leaders on a global scale, focusing on a new country and their selected individual.
The United States of America
Ursula Burns, a New Yorker at heart, is our selected STEM leader from the United States of America. Accomplishing many “firsts,” Burns is an extremely successful business executive known for her role as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the corporation's Xerox and VEON. This was not a straightforward path for Burns, who was forced to learn responsibility from the time she was born.
Growing up in Manhattan, Burns lived in a low-income housing area where she was raised by her single mother (1). Burns worked around the community by cleaning, ironing, or anything of the sort to raise enough money for her tuition at a private Catholic school. She went on to major in mechanical engineering, receiving a bachelor’s degree at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU) and a master’s degree from Columbia University. Burns is the definition of tenacity and has been awarded for her contributions to the STEM community. Her biggest recognition was arguably from former President Barack Obama himself.
“In 2009 U.S. Pres. Barack Obama selected her to help lead the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition, a national alliance of more than 1,000 technological organizations striving to improve student participation and performance in the aforementioned subject areas through legislative advocacy” (1).
Burns is one of the most accomplished STEM professionals that the U.S has to offer, being the first Black woman to guide an S&P 500 company (2) and the first female to take over as CEO of a company following another woman (3). Currently, Burns encourages other businesses to improve diversity among their board members, inspiring young minorities in STEM to pursue their biggest career goals.
In an interview with CNN, Burns spoke towards her accomplishment as CEO of an S&P 500 company. She criticized the business industry for not allowing Black individuals to prosper, saying “How many more years do you say to the people who have been excluded: "Just hold on. Give them 10 more years. They'll get there"' (4).
Whether it be her contributions to Xerox and VEON, her prestigious legacy at NYU and Columbia, or her relentless fight for minorities in business, Ursula Burns is a natural-born leader. Her diligence in the field of STEM for the United States of America is an indispensable feat, making it impossible for Burns’ work to go unnoticed.
1. Biography of Ursula Burns. The Wonder Women Project. https://www.thewonderwomenproject.org/pages/biography-of-ursula-burns.
2. Forbes Magazine. Ursula Burns. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/profile/ursula-burns/.
3. Nolen, J. L. (2020, April 21). Ursula Burns. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ursula-Burns.
4. Alcorn, C. (2020, June 17). Ursula Burns is tired of corporate America making excuses for not hiring more black executives. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/16/business/ursula-burns-on-corporate-diversity/index.html