Women's Innovation Center

Celebrate July 4th Remembering the Women

And remember: Dr. Gladys West Exhibit Starts in January 2025

Mary Sherman Morgan (Photo: NCWI)

By Jane Plitt

Alexandria, VA – How better to honor the woman who enabled GPS (Global Positioning System), mathematician Dr. Gladys B. West, than to have the National Center of Women’s Innovations (NCWI) traveling exhibit featuring West be unveiled at the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus Headquarters when the campus opens for classes in January 2025! The exhibit will remain there for the public’s and students’ delight for six months and then continue its national tour. Book your stop with [email protected].

Dr. West received her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech at age 70, and this year, at age 93, she received the Distinguished Achievement Award at the school’s commencement. We are ecstatic with this location and this collaboration because it connects the public with an invaluable hi-tech institution of learning AND simultaneously uses an extraordinary female role model to encourage students of all backgrounds, especially girls, to pursue such fields. The other huge news is that students and faculty from the Blacksburg campus will design the exhibit, creating another learning opportunity for students and affirming our collaboration.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (Photo: NCWI)

I love to point out that “Only 28 percent of the STEM workforce today are women, and only 2 percent of that number are women of color. The need is urgent to encourage all women to pursue these studies and enter the STEM workforce to solve world challenges. To succeed, they need to learn about their innovative foremothers’ accomplishments.”

Many Alexandrians cheered on the news at a recent event announcing Virginia Tech’s role in the exhibit. Enjoy snapshots of some of the attendees.

Local author Sheila Moses helped spread that effort. Her most recent book, AFRICAN AMERICAN and EDUCATED: The Legacy of Black Colleges and Universities, includes Dr. West’s story since West received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia State University. It was there that Professors John and Louise Hunter mentored Dr. West. West cites the importance of her school and these mentors to encourage her achievement.

Moses herself is an inspiring, prolific author, enthusiastic supporter of NCWI, and a graduate of a HBSC (historically Black schools and colleges). Moses’ subjects include comedian Dick Gregory and the Legend of Buddy Bush. In 2004, she was nominated for the National Book Award and was named the Coretta Scott King Honoree for The Legend of Buddy Bush. In 2009, her novel Joseph was nominated for the NAACP Image Award. Her most recent books are We Were the Fire: Birmingham, 1963, Who Is Ketanji Brown Jackson? Who is Stacey Abrams?, and She Persisted.

While we celebrate our local celebrities, the NCWI wants all to remember the role women have played in propelling rockets and launching computers. The rockets’ red glare would not fly the Jupiter satellite without Mary Sherman Morgan, who is referred to as America’s first female rocket scientist.

Morgan didn’t attend school until she was nine, but always wanted to be a chemist. Eventually, she attended college, but she did not complete her degree. Yet, she was a whiz at what she did, which was making explosives. In 1957, she invented the liquid fuel Hydyne, which powered the Jupiter-C rocket that boosted America’s first satellite, Explorer I. She is an overlooked heroine of this country’s space program – partly overshadowed by the reputation of Werner von Braun and partly due to her reticence to claim the limelight. You rock, Mary Sherman Morgan!

When we think about the military, most people rarely think about the women who have bravely and innovatively served our country.

But there were and are women who have served in the technical fields. Computer programming pioneer Rear Admiral Grace Brewster Hopper was key to developing computer languages, including COBOL. According to Wikipedia, “the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her, as was the Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at NERSC,[6] and Nvidia Superchip “Grace Hopper”. When we think about how grateful we are to our nation’s leaders, know that women deserve to be thanked.

Read more about these wonderful women under our women innovators page. womensinnovations.org/womens-innovations/ Better yet, spread the word. Women have changed our world, too! Join our efforts. womensinnovations.org

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