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National Center of Women’s Innovations Puts Mother of GPS on the Map

Inaugural Gala Raises Funds and Awareness Amongst Glitz and Glamour at the Ritz!

Keynote speaker was 20/20 coanchor Deborah Roberts. (Photo: Donna Parry)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – At a black tie gala complete with celebrity guests and a nationally known TV journalist at the podium for the keynote address, the new Alexandria-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit, National Center for Women’s Innovations (NCWI) let the world know it is serious about showcasing the achievements of women innovators.

The night was part education, part celebration, and a grand birthday party for 93-year-old Gladys West, who is rightfully being put on the map. “We know more about a lost voyager than we do about the woman who made it possible for none of us ever to be lost again,” said author and film producer BK Fulton, NCWI board member and emcee for the event.

Considered one of the world’s “hidden figures” Dr. Gladys Brown West is an American mathematician, known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth and her work at the Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground, on the development of satellite geodesy models, that were later incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Dr. West received her two master’s degrees from Virginia State University and earned her Doctorate from Virginia Tech at age 70.

Dr. Gladys Brown West was honored as the Mother of the GPS on her 93rd birthday
by The National Center of Women’s Innovations (NCWI). (Photo: Vicky Hackett Blackmond)

The National Center of Women’s Innovations (NCWI), which supports interactive exhibits/STEM educational modules is the brainchild of its founder and chair, Jane R. Plitt, who has spent her lifetime creatively pursuing just causes, especially linked to women’s rights. In the seventies, as a rare female graduate of Cornell U. Labor Relations, she led successful efforts to eliminate help-wanted gender ads, integrate men’s only grills, and service organizations like the Kiwanis, Jaycees, Rotary, and others.

NCWI Founder and Board Chair Jane Plitt. (Photo: Donna Parry)

That led to her becoming The National Organization for Women’s (NOW’s) first national executive director. Plitt co-created the Rochester Women’s Network, started her own award-winning marketing and economic development consulting firm, and later became enamored with the buried story of Martha Matilda Harper. She devoted six years to unearthing the tale. After producing three books about Harper for all ages, she campaigned for her recognition. Now Jane thinks it is time to unearth the tales of thousands of more women innovators. “It’s TIME,” said Plitt to uproarious applause as seated guests arose. “Time these women like Gladys get put on the map.”

Deborah Roberts, TV’s  20/20 co-anchor, and award-winning ABC journalist gave the keynote address and said she was thrilled to be able to help NCWI shine a light on women trailblazers and added, “Like many of you, I never knew about this woman. And that a woman of color had helped deliver this technological innovation. How did we not know this? Well, every time you pull up your Google Maps from now on, you’d better thank Dr. West.”

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) International President and CEO Danette Anthony Reed with AKA Sorority Sister Gwen James, who discovered and first wrote about Dr. Gladys West enabling GPS. (Photo: Donna Parry)

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA), to which Dr. West and her daughter Carolyn West Ogelsby belong, was well represented by its International President and CEO, Danette Anthony Reed, and AKA sister, Gwen James (who uncovered Dr. West’s accomplishments). Both women received Pioneer Awards from NCWI presented by AKA and Virginia Tech alum Jummy Olabanji, NBC Washington anchor and

Theresa Peterson AKA and NCWI Board Member and Gala Co-Chair.

AKA International President and CEO Danette Anthony Reed received the NCWI Pioneer award from AKA Sorority Sisters, Theresa Peterson and Jummy Olabanji. (Photo: Donna Parry)

Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus Executive Director, Dr. Lance Collins, Dr. Pamela Gilchrist (NCWI Honorary Advisor), Director of K-12 Programs and STEM, and Virginia State’s President, Dr. Makola M. Abdullah were also in attendance proudly celebrating Dr. West.

Dr. Pamela Gilchrist, Virginia Tech Innovation Campus Director of K-12 Programs & STEM, and VT Executive Director Dr. Lance Collins with Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt at The National Center of Women’s Innovations Inaugural Gala. (Photo: Donna Parry)

Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Virginia Tech Alumna, and NCWI Honorary Advisor presented an official City of Alexandria proclamation acknowledging that October 27, 2023, celebrated the inaugural launch of NCWI and that Alexandria, Virginia affirms the importance of “putting women on the map for their innovations and envisions a world in which women’s inventions receive mainstream recognition” and declared that on behalf of the Mayor and City Council, the month of October would now be recognized and celebrated as the National Center of Women’s Innovations Month.

B.K. Fulton offered congratulatory letters to Dr. West from VA Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and from the first African American Virginia Congresswoman, Jennifer McClellan.

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Mary Wadland

Mary Wadland is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, founded by her in 2010. Originally from Delray Beach, Florida, Mary is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and has lived and worked in the Alexandria publishing community since 1987.

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