Innovation and inclusion
By Tonya S. Swindell
Recently I learned how innovation and inclusion of capable men and women contributed to monumental achievements in Hampton.
Meeting Dr. Christine Darden, an African-American female mathematician, data analyst and aeronautical engineer who conducted research related to supersonic flight and sonic booms, added to my appreciation of living legends. Seeing “Hidden Figures,” a movie showcasing accomplishments of women like Darden who demonstrated expertise, talent and perseverance in their roles at NASA Langley, solidified my conclusion that anything is possible.
On Nov. 5 at the Hampton History Museum, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Christine Darden announce the newest inductees of NACA/NASA Hall of Honor. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics developed in 1915 to advance America’s research. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, formed in 1958 to bolster development of our space program.
Information shared by Dr. Darden broadened my view of how a diverse cadre of locals created safer, more efficient aeronautics. She described individual accomplishments of honorees like Clinton Brown, Robert Champine, Norman Crabill, Smith DeFrance, Charles Donlan and 13 others. I was transfixed while hearing descriptions of the brilliance, resilience and drive exhibited by honorees, including human computers Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who were depicted in the movie “Hidden Figures.”
Dr. Darden and Mary Jackson were alumni of Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. Johnson earned degrees from West Virginia State and West Virginia University. Vaughan attended Wilberforce University.
Human computers were a select group of African-American women chosen by NASA Langley to calculate trajectories for critical space flights. One intense scene from “Hidden Figures” highlighted Johnson’s successful completion of a last-minute calculation allowing John Glenn to orbit the earth. At 97 years old, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama In 2015.
Dorothy Vaughan taught herself FORTRAN, an intricate programming language, then educated other human computers about how to execute it on IBM mainframes. When Vaughan was offered a promotion not extended to other qualified women, she declined. Darden acknowledged Vaughan’s actions as typical of a unifying leader.
Mary Jackson started as a research mathematician who eventually worked in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. After completing necessary education, Jackson became the first African-American female engineer at NASA Langley. It was inspiring to see one of her relatives at the Hampton History Museum.
My hope is to learn more about contributors who made an indelible imprint on the world by way of Hampton. The influence of Dr. Darden and others was incredible. Their efforts to innovate and persevere were unmatchable. Their legacy made it clear that all things are possible.
Achievements of Dr. Christine Darden and others provided inspiration and motivation for what is yet to be accomplished. Learning about monumental historical figures who looked like me enhanced my awareness about what is possible and for whom it is achievable.
Our world is much better off because principles of innovation and inclusion were championed in Hampton.
Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and is a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.