February 22, 2011

Good News Tuesday: NASA's Donya Douglas

Jeff Norman is a writer for the Guide to Online Schools.

Attracting quite a bit of much deserved attention these days is Donya Douglas, who is serving NASA to the best of her ability at the Goddard Flight Space Center as a thermal engineer. Working as an associate Branch Head in Instrument Systems, not necessarily a top-flight position, has not at all clouded the respect and pride she has engendered throughout the African American community. Technology is a field that continues to suffer a dearth in the presence of noteworthy Black individuals who are truly making a difference. All the more credit, then, is delivered to Ms. Douglas, whose work for NASA represents a quiet yet authoritative vanguard for both women and African Americans doing excellently in the realm of science.

Douglas' penchant for the sciences was rooted in her childhood. She has said that both science and math impassioned her during her beginning years of schooling, and that her knowledge that she would be an engineer was something she had at the age of ten. NASA was her number-one dream upon graduating from high school, and she took full advantage of an internship from NASA that was offered to her. That experience let her know that she was not alone in her zeal for technology; there was a visible presence of both women and minorities at NASA, and the sight of them let her know that she had a place there.

Douglas has been acclaimed seemingly to no end for her contribution to the technology community. Tennessee State University requested her permission to cite her example in a forthcoming textbook for elementary schools; she was also blessed with the Richard H. Goddard Award for Engineering and has found her career celebrated in "Space Place," an animated, science-based program for kids produced by NASA.

Her achievements have lent her a great deal of understanding as to the matter of the lack of African Americans in her field. She reasons the issue stems from insufficient preparation of young Black students, early in their education careers, on the joy and possibility of science and math. Frequently, those subjects in particular can be improperly framed as difficult, a challenge for students to surmount, instead of as a field of open knowledge and progress that is open to all who are willing to learn their rhyme and reason. Douglas has successfully insured that her own three children greet the sciences and technology with open arms -- one of them is already on the path to securing a degree in electrical engineering.

Douglas also cites the positive influence of teachers in launching her passion. For her, science and math were never subjects merely relegated to an hour-long, daily class. She participated in myriad after-school activities that showed the amusement possible in the fields.

Douglas commends her company, NASA, for their historically energetic endeavors to rouse an appreciation for the sciences in the Black community. NASA has been known to collaborate with several institutions that host a primarily African American community of students, and Douglas has done her own part to raise science's profile in the community with numerous public speaking ventures and offering mentorship to students seeking it.

On Douglas' mind at the moment is an urge to increase the visibility of NASA's efforts in robotic missions. The moon, Mars, and more are all locations that are prime for serious scientific inquiry. She's been in the field for nearly two decades now, and has a body of published work to rival those of even the most seasoned academics.

A big thank you goes out to Ms. Douglas; she's proven that African Americans in science can take flight today better than ever before.

NOTE: Information derived from interviews given by Ms. Douglas to Sister Mentors and Black Enterprise.

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