On Feb. 8, 2023, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium officially unveiled “Trailblazers in STEM,” the latest addition to its digital display gallery at Mote Aquarium.  This interactive display and website exhibit, developed in collaboration with Yocum African American History Association, highlights trailblazing leaders from diverse backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), whose ingenuity and fortitude has revolutionized every facet of our lives, including Mote’s Founding Director, Dr. Eugenie “Genie” Clark.

By featuring Trailblazers in STEM at its Aquarium, with its launch during Black History Month, Mote builds upon its future-leaning efforts to expand the participation of historically underrepresented groups in marine and ocean science STEM fields.  In 2019, Mote Marine Laboratory was selected by the National Science Foundation to lead the Marine Science Laboratory Alliance Center of Excellence (MarSci-LACE), a Louis Stokes alliance for minority participation program. Mote’s MarSci-LACE is a nexus training, resource, and supporting partner to other independent marine research institutions, universities, LSAMP students, and STEM mentors and faculty.  The central purpose of MarSCI-LACE is to increase the number and preparedness of students from historically underrepresented groups earning undergraduate degrees in marine sciences and related fields.

To further broaden the successful impacts of MarSci-LACE, in addition to launching Trailblazers in STEM in early February, Mote also announced the appointment of Amanda Felix to the position of Diversity & Inclusion Advisor to the President & CEO. In her newly established position, Amanda will be responsible for developing, managing, recruiting for, and expanding programs that increase participation from historically underrepresented groups in the Aquarium science population of undergraduate interns, staff and volunteers through experiential learning and training opportunities.

Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote President & CEO and Principal Investigator for MarSci-LACE, says, “For years Mote has been a leader in recruiting and nurturing underrepresented minorities in our REU programs as well as establishing innovative approaches to study, identify, demonstrate, and articulate the need for broadening the participation of historically underrepresented individuals in marine STEM fields.” He adds, “Our Trailblazers in STEM collaboration is a continuance of Mote’s very own trailblazing endeavors to establish research-based best practices that will broaden underrepresented participation in marine and ocean science STEM.

Aly Busse, Mote’s Associate Vice President of Education and Co-Principal Investigator for MarSci-LACE, says the addition of Trailblazers in STEM to Mote’s education and outreach efforts is a “welcome addition and natural fit to our internationally recognized efforts to diversify the participation of historically underrepresented groups in marine science.” She adds, “Our focus is on pioneering an aspirational approach to the future of STEM identity; part of our success will rest in demonstrating to tomorrow’s leaders that these trailblazers have forged a path that is now theirs to carry forward.”

To complement the launch of the new exhibit and website, Mote hosted a panel discussion highlighting the critical role that honoring and nurturing diversity will play in the future of STEM fields.  Included on the panel were trailblazing leaders:

  • Dr. Warren Washington, Distinguished Scholar and 2nd African American ever to obtain a PhD in meteorology, who was honored with the National Medal of Science in 2010 for his work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and for his efforts to increase diversity in the workforce;
  • Amanda Felix, Mote Aquarium Biologist lll, and Diversity & Inclusion Advisor to the President & CEO at Mote Marine Laboratory;
  • Dr. Ashanti Johnson, who received a U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, among other awards, and is a current member of the U.S. Defense Science Board, was the first African American to receive a PhD in oceanography at Texas A & M.; and
  • Aly Busse, Associate Vice President for Education at Mote Marine Laboratory and Co-Principal Investigator and Project Director for the LSAMP/MarSci-LACE at Mote.

Mote Trustee LTC Frances Presley Rice, 20-year US Army Veteran and retired lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and co-founding Board member of YAHAA, was moderator for the panel discussion and adds, “We’re proud to work alongside Mote in support of an aligned mission to bring out the powerful stories of African American heroes and leaders who made a difference. As we seek to further educate the public that black history and American history are one and the same, it’s important to recognize and honor the diversity in STEM fields already historically documented. Launching Trailblazers in STEM with Mote was a tremendous way to celebrate Black History Month this year.”

About Yocum African American History Association:
The Yocum African American History Association’s mission is to broaden the knowledge of the cultural sector, educational community, and the public by making available documented African American history. The vision of the Yocum African American History Association is to have our documented African American history available in libraries, schools and online platforms with public access.