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Urban League Honoring Woman For Breaking Barriers, Becoming A Scientist

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minneapolis Urban League is honoring a woman who broke through racial barriers and overcame gender bias to become a scientist, more than 50 years ago.

Dr. Reatha Clark King is slated to receive the Trailblazer Award Thursday night, at the Urban League’s annual gala.

She’s a chemist who led Metro State University and the General Mills Foundation. But she’s also passionate about encouraging girls and young women who are interested in science and math.

In 2014, there’s a gender gap that still exists.

The U.S. Commerce Department finds that women are way under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math careers.
Women hold half of the jobs in the U.S. economy, but hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.

Factors that contribute to all of this are a lack of female role models and gender stereotyping.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge the accomplishments of a retired scientist who lives here in the Twin Cities.

The cotton fields of South Georgia seem like an unlikely place for a child to practice math, but that’s where King memorized the multiplication table.

“In the field, in the hot sun, I would write them out,” she said. “I would keep practicing in the sand. I liked numbers that much.”

King would go on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D in chemistry at the University of Chicago in the 1960s.

“We laugh about it now,” she said, “but women just were not supposed to do that.”

Today women still lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to choosing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

However, the Commerce Department reports that women who work in STEM careers, make 33 percent more money than women in other fields.

That’s why companies that employ scientists, like 3M in Maplewood, fund educational programs that encourage girls to choose science and math.

Kim Price is the head of the 3M Foundation.

“I think part of the veering in another direction is lack of engaged role models, to see what the possibilities are,” she said. “That’s where Dr. Reatha Clark King is just such a sterling example of excellence.”

3M has a program called Visiting Wizards that sends scientists into elementary school classrooms to show students that these kinds of jobs can be fun.

At the college level, the number of women choosing science and math majors and sticking with them still lags behind men.

Women hold a disproportionately low share of undergraduate degrees, especially in engineering.

King will receive her award Thursday at the Urban League Gala at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton.

There’s a reception at 5 p.m., and then the dinner and program begin at 6:30 p.m.

Marc Morial is the keynote speaker. He’s the national president of the Urban League.

Ticket information is available here.

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