As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, we remember the impact of those grainy black and white images flickering across our television screens. As a nation we were thrilled to see Neil Armstrong take the first step on the lunar surface. We watched it happen and we believed that anything was possible.
Representation matters. As I share my story I aspire to help all children believe that they can achieve what they dream - that they can see their dreams become reality. The lunar landing expanded our physical horizon, and I try to encourage children to pursue a growth mindset and opportunities for experiential learning - to expand their thinking and see a world of unlimited possibilities.
As we continue to champion diversity and inclusion, I am reminded of my training in the astronaut corps. My wilderness survival training partner, Sunni Williams, was one of four women in my 1998 induction class, and I was the only African American. Like many professional environments, the space industry has historically been very white and male. I was blessed to have a strong woman as a training partner and the strong support of family and friends as I pursued my goals at NASA. It made a huge difference.
Paying that support forward requires intentional action. I work with the RISE movement to support gender equality and give voice to those who have been victimized. My collaboration with the UN champions the seventeen sustainable development goals to alleviate poverty, promote education and transform our world. I travel internationally to places such as South Africa and Malawi, reaching underserved populations and girls through the WiSci (Women in Science) STEAM program - encouraging students to pursue educational goals and STEAM learning.
As one of 21 African Americans in the history of the astronaut corps, many people tell me that I embody diversity and inclusion simply by being a part of the program. It was never my intent or motivation. I actively pursued a career in science and engineering and applied to the astronaut program only after a hamstring injury led to a failed career in the NFL. I overcame difficult challenges, including deafness, to finally land a Space Shuttle assignment.
Helping the next generation of explorers overcome their own challenges and pursue their dreams motivates me to share my story. The aspiration is to promote and support opportunities for others - to mentor young engineers, speak out about the need for diversity in STEM, and encourage those who dream big to go for it!
Mentoring is such a vital aspect of supporting the younger generation. My long time friend, Katherine Johnson, was first a mentor during my initial years at NASA Langley. I have always held the highest respect for her - before Hidden Figures became a book and movie, before the naming of a building after her at NASA, before her Presidential Medal of Freedom - not just because of her achievements, but because she made time to support and encourage those coming up through the ranks. As a young engineer and scientist, I valued her leadership as an African American woman and skilled mathematician in the space industry. Inclusive leaders recognize the wisdom and leadership from those who have gone before, no matter the race, gender, or ethnicity.
I aspire to be such a mentor and such a leader - to help others build on the 50 year Apollo legacy of excellence - so we may all continue this journey with innovation, hope, and inspiration. Here's to the next 50 years!
Thank you for honoring me with this incredible 2019 GlobalMindED Inclusive Leader Award in Space & Aerospace category.