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Hip Hop Science Communication with Maynard Okereke.

Ruvimbo Samanga is an African space policy analyst based in Zimbabwe. She supports many initiatives in space policy, business, outreach, and education.





Our guest this week is Maynard Okereke, better known as the Hip Hop M.D. Maynard is an award winning Science Communicator. After noticing a lack of minority involvement in the STEM fields, he created Hip Hop Science with the goal of encouraging minorities and youth to pursue more advanced career paths.

You can connect with Maynard on LinkedIn and find out more about his work at his website.

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>> Maria Varmazis: [Music] Welcome to "T-Minus Deep Space," from N2K Networks. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the "T-Minus Space" daily podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program.

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Our guest this week is Maynard Okereke, better known as the hip hop MD. Maynard is an award winning science communicator. Now let Maynard explain his work in his own words.

>> Maynard Okereke: My name is Maynard Okereke, also on social media may know me as Hip Hop, MD. I have a background in Civil Environmental Engineering from University of Washington. And I work now as a science communicator with my platform Hip Hop Science, where I use music, entertainment, and comedy to educate on a wide variety of scientific topics, really, with the goal of encouraging more minority and youth involvement into the STEM fields.

>> Maria Varmazis: Maynard, thank you so much for that awesome intro. One of the many areas of science that you talk to people about is space. So that's what we're gonna focus on for the purposes of this show. You just emceed the ISS R and D event. This is I think, at least your second time doing it, which is awesome. I would love to hear your takeaways from that event, especially on the panel that you were on, but maybe just first, some thoughts about how the event was. Like, any thoughts that you have about that?

>> Maynard Okereke: Yes, yeah. This was my second time at ISSR DC. Last year, I was moderator for one of the main panels. And this year, they brought me back on as an official host for day three of the event and also had a chance to moderate a panel as well. And it's been an actually incredible event. The first time that I went last year was kind of my first immersion into it. And so I came in with a little different perspective this time around having spent that time last year. And I found it as a very fantastic event. This is a great opportunity to get engaged in a lot of new things that are happening in the space industry. But I think the best part actually, it's a really collaborative effort and it brings a lot of people that aren't traditionally normally in aerospace kind of space industry, to now be able to present ways that you can not only bring education, but technology and also kind of explore the future of where space travel and space exploration is going. And I think the part that I appreciate about it is the educational aspect. Because the whole goal is to fully find ways to be more inclusive, and bring in more voices into space industry. And ISS is obviously a great tool to be able to do that. Because that in itself is the epitome of collaboration, right? You have so many different countries involved in space research. And, you know, obviously, you know, with our ties with or unties, with the Russia and everything like that, to be able to now have this kind of collaborative space, you know, with the ISS, we are able to bring that down here and kind of bring that and kind of inclusion down here and kind of think about ways that we can be able to advance technology here on Earth by utilizing the resources of the ISS. And so for me, the educational aspect was really key to be able to bring educators on board, to be able to talk about programs that they can be able to introduce their students. Even last year, and this year, we presented awards for students that were able to come up with innovative ideas that it can be able to send to the ISS and to think about someone in junior high, high school, being able to work on a project and then literally be able to send it to space, to me that just fascinating. And so that was a really cool experience to be able to see all the different arms and tentacles that the ISS has on technology and research and to see all the different types of people there at this event and learn about ways that they can utilize it.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's so awesome. So much good educational energies happening around the ISS. That's so it just blows my mind to know what students are able to do now. It's just awesome. Correct me if I'm wrong, I think you emceed a panel about space workforce 2030, is that correct?

>> Maynard Okereke: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. So the panel this year, we have some incredible voices in space industry and education. And really the goal was to be able to talk about the future of the space workforce. And I think one of the interesting parts about it, I was really kind of describing what workforce is, right? Because it translates a little bit differently to everybody. But for me, I was coming at it from the perspective of how do we now ingratiate ourselves to kind of this new industry, this new wave of, you know, think about graduates, right? People that are coming out of their college degrees getting into the field, and the new dynamics around kind of the culture. You know, when we're thinking about diversity and thinking about inclusion in gender diversity and all these different topics, and how do we now be able to find ways to be able to ingratiate within that new movement and to be able to diversify our workforce, and to be able to come in with a fresh perspective where we can really be able to utilize the talents of so many people that are out there, and to be able to reach those people in unique ways that we haven't done before. And I think that I think all the panelists brought some really introspective views to that from different wave fronts. Because we have professors there, we have people that are work in industry, we have people working for nonprofit organizations. And so there was kind of a methodology of ways that we can be able to not only reach youth, but also to be able to reach, you know, other young working professionals that may be in other industries and other fields, and showcase all the opportunities that are available to them within aerospace in the space industry in general.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah. I mean, it's such an important initiative. I mean, it's not just initiative, it's an existential thing for aerospace to be able to reach new people and understand that, like, things can't just be the way they've always been. We have to include everybody and everyone who is interested in working in aerospace. That also includes how we reach people and at a young age, and that's a huge part of what you do. And it's, you do it extraordinarily well. I'm a big fan of what you do. And I would love to get your take on maybe what's working in the realm of space and space communication, and maybe what's not working, like, what do you think people are doing? Well, and what do you think people should be doing better?

>> Maynard Okereke: Yeah. That's a great question. I think one thing that we are doing a lot better at within the space industry is really showcasing the purpose of the technology, the purpose of exploration. We're starting to do a little bit better job at being able to bring that to the forefront. I saw that for a long time as one of the gaps in communication in general, when it came to space exploration. Because you think about one of the main questions that you get from the general public is like, why are we going to space? Why are we exploring space when we have all these problems here on Earth? Which is a very valid question, right? We have so many different things between food shortage, water shortages, obviously, things happening culturally and whatnot. There's so many different problems here to be able to solve, absolutely correct. And we should be doing a better job at solving those problems, for sure. But we're doing a lot better job at really kind of showcasing what space exploration does for us as a society. Not only in advancing innovation and technology, but really also in bringing people together. Because like we talked about earlier, the collaborative effort that comes with space and space exploration, to be able to kind of show the humanistic side of everything. We think about things now with, like, civilian space exploration and the overview effect, and a better appreciation that we get off planet Earth. By seeing it from space, there's different aspects of that, that really bring something unique and kind of a more introspective view to the general public, when we really showcase what space exploration can do for us as individuals and bring us together as humanity. And I think we're starting to do a better job of that. And you think about things, like, you know, James Webb Space Telescope, and how that became kind of a huge fad, right, with the release of the first images and showcasing how we can literally look back into time. And we have so many different things, you know, the double asteroid redirection test, where we showcase that we can redirect an asteroid, and now we have OSIRIS REx coming back in a couple of weeks, where we're going to bring back the first samples from an asteroid. So many amazing things that are now being brought to the public eye that I don't think were really brought to the public eye before. I mean, you think about all of our rovers that we send to Mars, and for the most part, we're aware of it, but really, I didn't really think about it until, you know, the most recent perseverance rover, you know, that there wasn't as much general public hype. It was just kind of, like, oh, we send stuff to space. But now, it's like we're sending stuff to space for this reason, for this purpose. This is helping us innovate and find new ways and find new technologies that can be able to assist us here on Earth. We're starting to bring that a lot more to the forefront. So I think that's being done very, very well. When it comes to the side of things that we couldn't do better. I mean, I think there's different nuances for sure. One thing I think of is in regards to kind of ties into the panel that I was on in advancing the space workforce. You know, my platform is all about bringing diversity inclusion to the forefront. And I've had obviously a lot of discussions with women in the industry about the lack of gender diversity. And I think that's an area that we're starting to get a little bit better. But we can still do a lot of work on because there are still a lot of old school perspectives when it comes to aerospace. And I think we're just on the cusp now of addressing a lot of those. But I think there's a lot of work that can still be done to be able to showcase the importance of gender diversity and the importance of diversity when it comes to race as well, and setting up a more inclusive space. Those are areas that we can definitely do better on and we're just starting to get there. We're starting to kind of spin that wheel a little bit and find unique ways. And that's why I was really excited to be part of that panel of advancing the space workforce because we were able to address a lot of those issues front and center and be able to bring them directly to those people that are in the industry, those decision makers in the room that were there. A That's the platform and that's the space. That's the type of event that we need to have those discussions at, not behind closed doors, not just within ourselves, but within those people that are literally making the change and have the power to be able to do so. And so I think to be able to have opportunities, like, ISSRDC to be able to address those topics. And then obviously, having social media, AND these different platforms that we have to be able to bring those perspectives and those thoughts to the forefront as well, I think are now setting a new precedents for change.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

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>> Maria Varmazis: One of the amazing things that you do is you have this awesome persona, like, Hip Hop MD. You've always got, like, the headphones, and I love how you engage with youth. I think it's really great. And I would love to know, like, when you're having those conversations, especially with, like, younger kids about space, like, what are you hearing? What's resonating when you're talking to kids?

>> Maynard Okereke: I think in general, what I'm seeing within our youth, and I've done a lot of events. I recently did an event for Blue Origin. They had their very first inaugural annual symposium. And they brought a lot of high school students from across the country together to be able to come up with an innovative idea that they can utilize space to be able to help humanity. And I think we're starting to see that and our youth are starting to get excited about what space exploration can do. And I'm, you know, I grew up kind of in the era where, you know, being an astronaut was just kind of, like, a fun idea. It's, like, oh, what are you gonna be when you get older? I'm gonna be an astronaut. I'm gonna go into outer space and float around. And that was kind of all we thought about when we were kids about space, and we're just astronauts and going to -- go into outer space. But now, students are starting to see all the other opportunities around space exploration, other than being an astronaut. Because there's so many ways that we can be able to make an impact other than being that person that really flies in a space shuttle or a spaceship to outer space. So you think about aerospace engineering. You think about people working on the manufacturing side. You think about people come up with innovative technologies. You think about the fusion of all these unique fields. I have a friend of mine, whose title is Astro future biologist, and he thinks about ways that we can be able to advance biotechnology, as humanity starts to explore space more and more. And so you're getting these kind of blends of titles. Yeah, people that are doing astrobiology. You have people that are doing so many unique things, where you'll be able to merge these kind of common career paths, these common career fields that we do here on Earth, and now be able to see how they play and how they interface with space. And I think that's starting to resonate a lot more with students. The wheels are starting to spin now and they're starting to populate these ideas of how they can be able to impact life here on earth, in so many different ways outside of being an astronaut. And to me, that's a really cool perspective, because I didn't grow up with that kind of understanding, that kind of visual perspective. And our youth are really entrenched within that now. They're starting to see all these other fields that they can be able to get into, which opens the doors because now it's like, okay, maybe I might not be that adventurous one that literally wants to get in a spaceship or be blasted off on a rocket to space. But I can be able to be involved in so many new things, robotics and, like, you mentioned engineering, and testing, and all these different things come into play AI even, right, where we can track asteroids and track the path of asteroids and space debris that we have in outer space. There's so many innovative ways that they can still participate in the uniqueness of space exploration outside of just the concept of being an astronaut. And I think our youth are starting to see that.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's so awesome. Yeah. And I'm definitely one of those. I would be way too scared to go up into space, personally. Not that anyone's asking me, but I know I would be one of those. Like, I'll stay on the earth.

>> Maynard Okereke: Yeah.

>> Maria Varmazis: So that's great. For my fellow scared of space.

>> Maynard Okereke: Yeah, right.

>> Maria Varmazis: But excited about it types, right? So you've done an amazing amount of stuff. I mean, you were just on the Nautilus XC expedition. Any thoughts about, like, the relationship between water and space and exploration? This is sort of a vague question, but any lessons there from that experience, any thoughts on how that could apply to space?

>> Maynard Okereke: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I think there's a direct connection, right? I mean, we think about astronauts that train to go to outer space. One of the ways that they train is doing underwater exploration, right? Getting scuba certified for one, but you have a whole kind of testing facility where they, during the giant swimming pool, and you're testing all of the kind of mechanics and engineering aspects that you'd be doing in space. You're doing that underwater because that's kind of one of the best simulations of experiencing weightlessness is to literally be able to do that underwater. So there's already a direct connection when it comes to that. But we think about the exploration factor. And that's always a common question. And I -- and there's, it's always love asking that question, because you get really different unique perspectives. Like, would you rather go to deep space or go to the deep sea? And you have really two different fields of people that would do one or the other or maybe neither? Right? Yeah, right? I've always been a deep sea lover.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yeah.

>> Maynard Okereke: I've always loved, I've always had a fascination with the deep sea, obviously, space, I love space. And, you know, I would love to explore space as well. But the deep sea for me, it has a special place. One because it's right here. It's right in our own backyard. And the fact that we've actually done more deep space exploration that we've done deep sea exploration is mind blowing. The fact that that's right here on Earth, and we're still trying to develop technologies to be able to explore the deep sea. So part of what I did on the EV Nautilus was some ocean exploration. One, and obviously marine biology research and discovering new species and seeing what type of life is down there in the deep sea. But also doing hydrography work and mapping out the deep oceans. And there's a mission to have the entire ocean floor map by 2030. And so part of our research was doing that and actually coming up with detailed visual maps of what it looks like underwater. And you think about, oh, you think about James Webb that has given us photographs of all these galaxies and stars in the universe. And we're doing that underwater. We're mapping out terrain. We're mapping out volcanoes and volcanic activity, and valleys and canyons, and all these different things underwater. And to be able to get that visual of what it looks like, is absolutely valuable. And I think that kind of same precedence of change of when we're talking about space exploration, how it's advancing our knowledge of ways that we can deal with innovate here on Earth. The same is happening with underwater exploration. The more that we can learn about how the Earth was formed, and all these and how life was developed underwater, how life may have started in hydrothermal vents, right? That understanding opens up so many different things for us here on Earth, to be able to, one, know how to better protect our planets. Know how these -- how valuable this resource is, and know how precious life is here on Earth. And so I think there's a really unique juxtaposition when it comes to deep sea exploration and space exploration. Because they're very similar in a lot of different ways. The difficulties of being with being able to do both, but also how much these at the exploration into both of them advances us as a society so much more. And so for me being a part of that exploration, and then having my chance to be part of the EV Nautilus was definitely mind blowing, and eye opening as well, too. And I think a lot of people are starting to see the uniqueness of both.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's so cool. Thank you for that great answer. Oh, Maynard, I know we're coming to the end of our time, but I wanted to sort of give you the floor. If there's anything that you wanted to say to my audience, or that you want that we didn't address that you'd like to talk about, I wanted to give you that opportunity.

>> Maynard Okereke: Yeah. Well, I know you mentioned, you know, one of the things we wanted to highlight was kind of the advancement of, you know, purpose of why we're doing space exploration and what the, you know, what it brings for us here on Earth. And I just wanted to just really touch on kind of what we started talking about with the space workforce panel in regards to diversity and inclusion, and really kind of address that just kind of in a quick nutshell about really the general importance of that, right? Because I think a lot of times he talked about diversity inclusion, but we just kind of we think a bit like, oh, yes, we just want to get more people of color and more people involved in this. And that's one aspect of it. But the understanding the reason why. The reason why gender diversity is important, the reason why cultural diversity is important. One is because we get to bring so many new innovative ideas to the table that you don't get, if you just have a monolithic perspective. You want to be able to get so many different people, so many different people with different experiences, different lived experiences, different cultural experiences, because they all bring new ideas to the table. And the only way that we're going to advance and innovate is if we bring new ideas to the table. And you're not going to get that if you just get the same people having the same conversations and the same dialogue within people that look like themselves. And so the really that's the purpose when we talk about diversity and inclusion is be able to amplify opportunities to be able to innovate and grow as a society. And that's really the crux of it and the importance of it. And overall, you know, I appreciate you having me on this platform to be able to talk a little bit about that and the work that I do with my Hip Hop Science platform because that's at the crux of it is the goal is to be able to bring you the uniqueness of exploration within space and all these other areas of STEM because I talk on a wide variety of STEM topics. To be able to now bring these things to the forefront and show the general public all the exciting things that are happening in science and encourage them to participate in it. Encourage them to go into careers in these fields. Encourage youth, encourage people that are working professionals to think of ways that they can think outside the box and transition into new areas and bring this excitement of science to the general public. Because I always grew up with a kind of natural curiosity. And I think it's important that we, as adults even continue to have our curiosity sparked, to be able to continue to find new ways to be able to know that these things are exciting and that these things exist. Because it only helps us a society to be able to grow and continue innovating. So I'm just happy to be able to partake in the science communication world and to be able to least utilize my voice to hopefully set change in the future.

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>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for "T-Minus Deep Space" for September 9th, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in this rapidly changing space industry. This episode was produced by Ellis Carew, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karp, our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

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