This week’s #WCWinSTEM is Dr. Christine Darden, NASA scientist.
As compiled by Chrystelle Vilfranc
Have you been feeling the #HiddenFigures theme like we have? Good! Let’s continue highlighting the remarkable Black-women in STEM at the center of Margot Lee Shetterly‘s Hidden Figures. Today’s #WCWinSTEM is Dr. Christine Darden, a NASA scientist.
Darden was born in Monroe, North Carolina to an insurance agent and an elementary school teacher. She graduated from Allen High School as the class valedictorian and received a scholarship to attend Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. There, she received her B.S. degree in mathematics education and her teaching certification in 1962. She worked as a math instructor at Russell High School in Virginia from 1962 to 1963. She moved on to teaching at Norcom High School in Portsmouth from 1964 to 1965; she then earned her M.S. degree in applied mathematics from Virgina State College in 1967 and her D.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering, specializing in fluid mechanics, from George Washington University.
After completing her M.S., Darden became a data analyst for NASA at its Langley Research Center. She served one of several “human computers,” writing complex programs and crunching numbers for engineers. However, Darden aspired to do more than process data. After eight years of calculations and data processing, Darden decided she wanted to be on the end where data was created. She asked her supervisor why men with similar educational backgrounds (M.S. in applied mathematics) were hired as engineers. Her supervisor could not deny her brilliance. He transferred her to the engineering section where she became one of the few female aerospace engineers at NASA Langley during that time.
Her first assignment as an engineer was to write a computer program for sonic boom. The Sonic Boom Research program launched a 25-year career for Darden working in sonic boom minimization. In 1989, Darden was promoted as the technical leader of NASA’s Sonic Boom Group of the Vehicle Integration Branch of the High Speed Research Program. She was responsible for developing the sonic boom research program internally at NASA. Darden also partnered with and led an advisory team of representatives from industrial manufacturers and academic institutions. In 1994 she became the deputy program manager of the TU-144 Experiments Program, NASA’s High Speed Research Program. In 1999, Darden was appointed the director in the Program Management Office of the Aerospace Performing Center at Langley Research Center where she was responsible for Langley research in air traffic management and other aeronautic programs managed at other NASA centers. Darden authored more than 50 publications in the field of high lift wing designing supersonic flow, flap design, sonic boom prediction and sonic boom minimization.
Darden was awarded the Senior Executive Career Development Fellowship from Simmons College in 1994. NASA recognized Darden with the Certificate of Outstanding Performance ten times between 1973 and 2003. Darden has been the recipient of a number of NASA medals for equal opportunity and for achievement while leading the sonic boom program. She was also the recipient of the 1987 Candace Award for Science and Technology from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. In 1988 Darden was awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Award from the publishers of U.S. Black Engineer & Technology magazine. Sheesh! How brilliant and awesome is she?
Challenge: next time you are on a plane, stop and consider how Dr. Christine Darden’s work may have contributed to the structure and function of that plane!
Dr. Christine Darden, we are so grateful for all that you have done to contribute to this world of #STEM!
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