Jackie Joyner-Kersee backs Bayer Science Studio effort

Jacob2Even early on, it was clear Jackie Joyner-Kersee possessed a surplus of raw talent.

At 18 years old, Joyner-Kersee traveled from her home in East St. Louis to participate in the 1980 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. She leaped far enough in the long jump to make the finals, eventually finishing in eighth place.

17UND_JackieJoynerKersee_1550_M3RBut that was just the start. Joyner-Kersee would go on to compete in four Olympics, earning three gold, one silver and two bronze medals—alongside many other world championships. In 2000, Sports Illustrated named her the greatest female athlete of all time.

An incredible amount of training and hard work went into Joyner-Kersee’s transformation from talented teenager to all-time great. But she says something else also contributed to her success: science.

“I have always had an interest in science,” Joyner-Kersee said. “From my athletic background, there’s so much science. How do I measure from the starting block to the first hurdle that I’m going to try to negotiate? And then also with nutrition, it’s about eating well and finding what foods work for you. And since I am asthmatic, I had to make sure that I had the proper nutrients in my body to compete at a high level.”

As she found success and her fame grew, Joyner-Kersee focused on giving back to her community. She wanted to make sure young people had a level playing field and access to the tools they needed to thrive.

Today, she sees Amazon Alexa — coupled with Bayer’s new Science Studio — as a powerful tool that could awaken an interest in science skills among young people everywhere.

Missouri Business recently spoke with Joyner-Kersee about her interest in Science Studio.

Missouri Business: Your work today with the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation uses athletics to capture the attention of young people and then exposes them to basic, important skills they need to be successful in life. How does science fit into that?

Joyner-Kersee: When you think about the basics of athletics, it’s being able to run, jump and throw. And when you think of the basics educationally, it’s reading, writing, math and science. If you don’t have the basics, eventually when you go to the next level, how will you solve those problems? What’s a fraction? What’s division? You need a solid foundation.

The children that come through our doors, we empower them so they can have a level playing field, so they can be in the mix.

Access is everything. We’re trying to get our kids involved in STEM. We work hard to boost our computer lab so our kids can learn coding, so they can learn designing and how to work on a 3D printer. We want them to be part of a robotics competition. It’s just being able to introduce them and allow them to take it on to the next level.

Missouri Business: Bayer’s Science Studio seems to play right into what you’re talking about. Amazon Alexa products can be fairly inexpensive now. With Science Studio, it seems like there is a great potential to bring science and technology into many more homes.

Joyner-Kersee: I think it’s a tremendous step. Because instead of just using Alexa for music or the latest rap group, you’re now using it as an educational tool. That’s why it’s great. It’s another engaging tool. It’s something they can talk to. They can get help with a homework assignment. It’s the way of the future.

Missouri Business: I know you’ve had a chance to see students interacting with the Bayer Science Studio running on an Alexa device. What was your impression of how it worked, and how were the kids responding to it?

Joyner-Kersee: It was just amazing. It was early on a Friday morning, and they were so energetic about learning. It’s almost as if you’re creating the next scientist or the next astronaut right before our eyes. They were having fun in a good way and also learning with Alexa talking back to them.

Missouri Business: So, what makes this kind of work rewarding for you at a personal level to work with kids and help promote this technology? Why do you enjoy doing this?

Joyner-Kersee: We use sports as a hook to get the kids in the door. Once they are here, I can expose them to things and plant a seed. We want to be a supplement to the school. Our school district helps our kids out, but we also work to keep them on a path toward really becoming outstanding students.

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