A first to be reckoned with

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Suffolk resident with decades of civic service is being recognized for a career of progress and “firsts.”

Monica Barnes wears a pin on her lapel that commemorates the centennial anniversary of NASA. After more than 30 years in the organization, she said the pin makes her feel proud. “I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in being part of changing people’s lives throughout the world,” she said.

Monica Barnes is one of 12 women to receive the 29th annual Women of Distinction award from the Young Women’s Christian Association of South Hampton Roads. Hundreds will attend the YWCA awards luncheon on April 27 at Norfolk Waterside Marriott.

“Each of the honorees exhibits exemplary commitment to our mission, which is to eliminate racism and empower women,” said Julie Suedmeyer-Buller, YWCA director of development.

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Barnes retired from NASA Langley Research Center in 2016 with more than 30 years of experience. She was the manager of the Minority University Research and Education Program, which has provided resources to local institutions such as Hampton University.

“These institutions had far reaching effects on their communities,” Barnes said.

She was the agency manager for Earth Systems Technology Energy Education and worked with the Virginia Space Grant Consortium to manage MUREP and coordinate the resources received by universities.

“It’s really important for me to provide an example for women to follow,” she said.

Her supervisor, Janet Sellars, submitted her nomination application for her award based on her career at NASA. But she also has a long career of “firsts.”

She became the first black woman to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech in 1986. In 1991, she was the first African-American Woman of the Year for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

When she later received the Collier trophy as part of a NASA flight test team in 2007, she was the first black woman at Langley to do so.

“I’ve had a lot of firsts,” she said.

She also served on the YWCA Virginia Peninsula board of directors for four years. The YWCA has programs focused on victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and stalking. Emergency shelter is provided for people in danger, and they encourage women to be self-sufficient.

“I think they do an excellent job with their mission and affect a lot of people in the community,” she said.

Barnes wants her career to inspire the next generation of women to exceed their own expectations.

“I want to inspire women to be more than they could ever dream,” she said. “I want them to know that they can do it. If I can do it, then they can too.”

Norfolk residents Deidre Love, Vivian Page, Noelle Gabriel, Jill Harris, Mike Harkins and Ruth Amundsen of Norfolk will be awarded along with Barnes. Kim Curtis, Beth Patterson, Shelley Mishoe, Marianne Dickerson and Capt. Barbara Geraghty of Virginia Beach will also be honored.