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Camellia Moses Okpodu

Research director and STEM educator Camellia Moses Okpodu was born on January 24, 1964 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Okpodu was the fourth of five children born to Frank Moses, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, and Luerevia Fullwood Moses. She graduated from West Brunswick High School in 1982, and then enrolled at North Carolina State University where she received her B.S. degree in biochemistry in 1987, and her Ph.D. degree in plant physiology and biochemistry in 1994. Upon graduation, Okpodu was awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship in plant molecular biology at the Virginia Institute of Technology. She also received certificates in Documentation and Record Keeping from the BioPharma Institute Program, in Forensic DNA Databases and Courtroom Consideration from the National Institute of Justice via the Forensics Training Network, and in Hazardous Communication from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In 1996, Okpodu joined the faculty at Hampton University as an assistant professor in the department of biology. While there, she served as program director and principal investigator for Project O.A.K. from 1992 to 2002, and as chair of the department of biology from 1999 to 2000. In 2002, Okpodu left Hampton and joined the faculty at Elizabeth City State University where she was appointed to an endowed professorship and served for one year as the chair of the biology department. She then moved to Norfolk State University in 2003 where she was named professor and chair of the biology department. She also served as the director of the National Institutes of Health Extramural Research Office, director of the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence, and as director of the Group for Microgravity and Environmental Biology (formerly, the Center of Microgravity and Environmental Biology).

Okpodu is a member of the Sigma Xi, Beta Kappa Chi, and the American Society of Plant Biology. Okpodu served as a reviewer for the Journal of Applied Phycology, and has published her research in the Journal of Plant Physiology and the Journal of Plant Science. Her academic and professional awards include the Gordon Research Conference Travel Award, the Intelligence Community Faculty Scholar Award, and both the Award of Recognition and the Special Recognition of Merit Award from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In addition, she served as a National Institutes of Health Genome Fellow in 2006, an Extramural Research Associate Fellow in 2006, and as an American Council on Education Fellow in 2007.

Camellia Moses Okpodu was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 20, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.151

Sex

Female

Interview Date

6/20/2013

Last Name

Okpodu

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Moses

Schools

North Carolina State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Camellia

Birth City, State, Country

Portsmouth

HM ID

OKP01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Holden Beach, North Carolina

Favorite Quote

I don't need nobody to get me nothin'. Just open the door and I'll get it myself. - James Brown

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Virginia

Birth Date

1/2/1964

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Hampton

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Asparagus

Short Description

Molecular biologist and plant biochemist Camellia Moses Okpodu (1964 - ) former chair of the Norfolk State University Biology Department, was the first Marshall Rauch Distinguished Professor at Elizabeth City University and the second director of the Norfolk State University’s Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence.

Employment

Norfolk State University

Elizabeth City State University

Hampton University

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Camellia Okpodu's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Camellia Okpodu lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Camellia Okpodu describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Camellia Okpodu describes her research on the Emancipation Oak pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Camellia Okpodu describes her research on the Emancipation Oak pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Camellia Okpodu describes her father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her parents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Camellia Okpodu describes her likeness to her parents

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Camellia Okpodu describes being raised by her uncle and aunt

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Camellia Okpodu describes the leaf collection that she submitted for a 4-H competition

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Camellia Okpodu describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Camellia Okpodu talks about Wilmington, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Camellia Okpodu talks about grade school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her extracurricular activities in school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her uncle Legrand incorporating North Myrtle Beach

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Camellia Okpodu describes her decision to attend North Carolina State University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Camellia Okpodu describes becoming Miss Brunswick County

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Camellia Okpodu describes her time at North Carolina State University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Camellia Okpodu describes why she became interested in biochemistry

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Camellia Okpodu talks about sports at North Carolina State University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Camellia Okpodu describes her time in graduate school at North Carolina State University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Camellia Okpodu talks about Arlene Maclin, Esther Terry, and Roseanne Runte

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Camellia Okpodu describes her doctoral dissertation

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her doing her postdoctoral work at Virginia Polytechnic and State University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Camellia Okpodu describes her time as professor at Hampton University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Camellia Okpodu describes her projects at Hampton University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her books

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Camellia Okpodu talks about Dr. Douglas Depriest

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Camellia Okpodu describes her transition from Hampton University to Norfolk State University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Camellia Okpodu describes her time as chair of a department at Norfolk State University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Camellia Okpodu talks about photosynthesis

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her work with undergraduate research pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her work with undergraduate research pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Camellia Okpodu describes her time as the director of the Office of Extramural Research

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Camellia Okpodu talks about genetically modified food

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Camellia Okpodu talks about the Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Camellia Okpodu talks about the Mid-Atlantic Consortium-Center for Academic Excellence

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Camellia Okpodu reflects on her career

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her concerns for parents and the next generation

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Camellia Okpodu reflects on her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Camellia Okpodu talks about her family

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Camellia Okpodu talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Camellia Okpodu describes her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$6

DATitle
Camellia Okpodu describes her projects at Hampton University
Camellia Okpodu describes her time as the director of the Office of Extramural Research
Transcript
You're writing proposals there at Hampton [University, Hampton, Virginia]--$$Yes.$$--and for--what were some of the projects you were trying to fund?$$Well, I wrote a proposal to NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to fund my research in the microgravity research that I was doing, I wrote a proposal for my, National Science Foundation [NSF] for a Research Experience for Undergraduates [REU], I wrote one to NIH [National Institute of Health] as part of the MARC [Minority Access to Research Careers] proposal which was part of a larger group of proposals that we all wrote which we considered AREA Grant [National Institute of Health's Academic Research Enhancement Award], I participated in the writing of an ANPS, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority in Science, so I was actively involved in a number of those proposals.$$Okay. Tell us a little bit about microgravity, now that's just something that NASA is interested in, right?$$Yeah.$$(Unclear) What happens to plants in low gravity situations, right$$Right, well I'm no longer doing that research but one of the things we know that plants have responsive genes that turn on a response to changes in gravitational pull, so right now you can take a--you've probably done this. You grow a plant, if you look at the plant on the side, you know--if you've probably seen this, and then plant will grow towards--grow up, so how does a plant know that's up? So we looked for genes that we could disrupt because those are gravity sensing genes, and we looked for that and that's what I was trying to do at Hampton. I designed something I called The Modular Plant, Plant Module PM--MPM; I never got to drop it in the drop tower, and what we were trying to do was look at those early events of development. What I had found over the years with the inositol enzymes is that those enzymes got turned on very early in, in development. So anytime you're sensing the change, they return normal within--actually within seconds, which--at the time when we were telling people this, they didn't believe it to be true, and then Dr. Bolson, along with others, have shown that this is really--a change in the transcript level occurs very quickly. So I--my question is what happens very early in microgravity? And so I had developed a way to study this; unfortunately, I never got a chance to do it, I left Hampton, went to Elizabeth City State [University, Elizabeth City, North California], by the time I got the thing in place--my contract moved to Elizabeth City State, I--the person I was working with at NASA retired or left, and so I was never able to fulfill that research but I did design the module and my understanding is that it works, so I did do that, and that's one of the things that was very successful.$$Tell us a little bit more about this module. I had a note about it here but what was it (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--I designed it in such a way that as it dropped through the tower, that you could actually slowly or quickly freeze the material so by the time it got to the end of the tower which was a thirty second drop, that you could take lapse times, so I had it designed where you could--it would kill plants after one second, it would kill some of the--it'll freeze other plants after five seconds, and so forth and so on. So you could do what we call a dose response. So you could look at--isolate the tissue and see what happened early on the first second of dropping and see what we call subtractive DNA analysis to see if there was any genes turned on or off as a result, as you would do the gravitational but I never got a chance to do it. So the thing is created, we showed it work, I never got to do the experiments.$$Did you ever get a chance to see the results of how it worked?$$Yeah, I got to do it, I just never got to do the experiments.$$Okay, all right.$$It worked. We designed it and it worked, we built it but I never got to--'cause the person I was working with got changed to a different mission and then NASA Glenn [Center for Research, Cleveland, Ohio] was not doing the drop tower research anymore.$$Okay. Now what was Project Oak at Hampton?$$That was the REU (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--That was the--$$(Simultaneous)--That was the Research Experience for Undergraduates.$$Okay.$$I named it Project Oak, Opportunity Alliance Network, after the fact that I was bringing students in--college students from all over the country, to come to an HBCU, spend eight weeks with us and do research centered around the Emancipation Oak that's a live--living laboratory. So we did pathology, we isolated whatever pathogen was from the leaves. We did micro-- molecular biology where did the isolation of DNA from both prepared and herbarium stored samples and we did some biochemistry in analyzing the different types of iso-enzymes that were seen in the leaves in response to different stresses. So it was just simply using the Emancipation Oak as the foundational research project for our--what we were doing.$In 2007, you were director of the NIH [National Institute of Health] Extramural Research Office [sic, Office of Extramural Research, OER] here. What did that entail?$$So when I became a department chair, I realized that part of the problem was--I did a survey and people weren't writing proposals, and it's because I learned about Vroom's expectancy theory. You're like, "What, you're a biochemist, what do you know about all this sociology work?" So Vroom's idea is to change an organization there's some intrinsic things that people come with that you're not gonna be able to do, you know? If I'm a runner, I'm wired to be a runner and--but there are some things that you can manage that's an expectation. So most of us are intrinsically motivated but we have an expectation that you would provide me the tools by which I can have--affect my own change, and so if you want to change organizational culture or outlooks, one of the things you can do is manage expectations by providing students--people with the proper tools. So what I, what I found--my idea was--this was hypothesis-driven research that I did was trying to figure out how to get people to write proposals and most people would wanna write. I mean most people wanna write but they felt like, "You didn't give us the infrastructure or the tools." And so I developed a training program when I would train people to write proposals and then I would actually work with them and actually draft the proposals. And so one of the ones that we had the most success with is this Mid-Atlantic Consortium that we had between Morgan State [University, Baltimore, Maryland] and Norfolk State [University, Norfolk, University] and that we brought a group of people together and we sat down through the OER office and we wrote a proposal together. And then we crafted that proposal such that when we submitted it for final submission, it was one of the--it was the top proposal. We were told by the agency our proposal ranked number one out of the forty-one applications that they got. And it was because of the approach we decided. I didn't have a work shop just to be having a work shop. I had a work shop with tangible outcomes that when they left, they actually had something that they could submit. They had to massage it a little bit more, and I helped them in the process. But--so that was what the OER office did. We were a research development office. And I did that up until last year where I found that it was just a little bit too much--too difficult. In managing that, I micromanaged a lot. I don't do well in micromanaging. I figure that you tell me what it is you do and I can manage my own expectations, so that was--I just decided that I couldn't be effective at doing it so I'm no longer doing that. I still help people. The other day, somebody called me and said "Can you help me write this proposal?" I helped 'em write it because in the end run, the long run, you want people to be able to get tenure. The other thing I saw is that a lot of the young women, I thought, were not getting tenure. I don't know the reason why they were leaving, but I know part of it was they weren't getting it because they didn't have funded projects. And so I opened up the competition for anyone who wanted to apply. I helped-- helped anyone, but a lot of the young women I guess came because they saw me, and I guess for some reason I was--that translated to them. I helped anyone who wanted to be helped however, but a number of them were successful in getting funded projects and were able to get tenure, and I think it was directly related to that early grant; because if they hadn't been there, the process--even though we have an officer-sponsored program, it's not an easy process to get through. So I kinda helped them get through the process and get a final project that they could submit. Yep.

Robert Dottin

Biologist and research director Robert Dottin was born in Trinidad in 1943. He graduated from St. Mary’s College in 1970 with his B.S. degree in in biology. Dottin went on to earn his M.S. degree in medical biophysics in 1972 and his Ph.D. in medical genetics in 1974 from the University of Toronto. Upon graduation, Dottin was awarded the Centennial Fellowship to pursue post-doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dottin served as a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Copenhagen, Pasteur Institute in Paris, Karlova University in Prague and Oxford University. Dottin then became a full professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York. His teaching experience includes courses in bioinformatics, genetics and developmental biology, all of which utilize internet and digital technology to promote interactive learning. In addition, Dottin has developed many strategies that promote the inclusion of under-represented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathemathics) research as well as addressing health disparities. Dottin is the founder of the “JustGarciaHill” website – a internet-based community of more than four-thousand minorities in science. Dottin scholarship is published in journals such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Ethnicity and Disease.

From 1988 to 1986, Dottin served as the program coordinator for the Center for the Study of Gene Structure and Function (Gene Center) at Hunter College. In 1998, he was appointed as the director of the Gene Center. As director, Dottin increased the productivity, the level of funding, and the diversity of the faculty and staff within the organization. He steered the research at the Gene Center towards a “translational research” agenda and managed equal partnership of the Gene Center in the Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) with the Weill Cornell Medical Center, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the Hospital for Special Surgery. He is the principal investigator for the CTSC sub-award to Hunter College, and he is co-principal investigator on T3 Translational Research Network pilot projects to use an interactive videoconferencing platform to prevent chronic diseases, infectious diseases, and environmental toxicity.

Robert Dottin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 28, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.102

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/11/2013

Last Name

Dottin

Maker Category
Middle Name

Philip

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

University of Toronto

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Port of Spain

HM ID

DOT03

Favorite Season

Spring

Favorite Vacation Destination

Valldemossa, Majorca

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

5/5/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Trinidad & Tobago

Favorite Food

Grilled Seafood

Short Description

Biologist Robert Dottin (1943 - ) is a professor at Hunter College of City University of New York where he also was appointed as the program coordinator for the Center for the Study of Gene Structure and Function (Gene Center).

Employment

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

John Hopkins University

City University of New York

Hunter College

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Dottin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Dottin describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Dottin talks about his mother, Lena Decoteau

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Dottin describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Dottin describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Dottin talks about his parents' personality and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Dottin describes his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Dottin describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Dottin describes the neighborhoods where he grew up in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Dottin describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Port of Spain, Trinidad - part one

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Dottin describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Port of Spain, Trinidad - part two

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin discusses the Trinidadian economy and political activism, and his memories of the country gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1961

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Dottin describes the demographics of Trinidad and Tobago, and talks about famous writers who lived in Trinidad

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Dottin discusses the genetic diversity in Africa and his work with the H3Africa project

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Dottin talks about the schools that he attended in Trinidad, and describes the British system of education

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Dottin describes his experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Dottin describes his math education in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Dottin talks about studying calculus

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Dottin talks about his interest in science and mathematics, and his experience in high school at Fatima College in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Dottin describes how Trinidad gained independence from Great Britain in 1961

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin talks about Trinidad's independence celebrations of 1961, and discusses the different ethnic backgrounds of immigrants and African Americans

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Dottin describes his experience in high school at St. Mary's College in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Dottin describes his decision to attend the University of Toronto

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Dottin describes his experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Dottin describes his decision to pursue his master's and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Toronto, studying bacteriophage integration mechanisms

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Dottin describes his master's and Ph.D. dissertation on bacteriophage lambda regulation

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin describes the scientific reaction to his Ph.D. dissertation on bacteriophage lambda regulation

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Dottin describes his postdoctoral research at MIT, where he discovered novel features of the messenger RNA of the amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Dottin talks about his experience as a visiting professor in Copenhagen, Sweden in 1976

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Dottin describes his research on signal transduction in Dictyostelium discoideum

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Dottin talks about working with Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. on minority education in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert Dottin describes his decision to accept a faculty position at Hunter College in New York

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Dottin describes his initial experience at the Center for the Study of Gene Structure at Hunter College

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin describes his experience at the Center for the Study of Gene Structure at Hunter College, and its achievements over the years - part one

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Dottin describes his experience at the Center for the Study of Gene Structure at Hunter College, and its achievements over the years - part two

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Dottin talks about Just Garcia Hill

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Dottin talks about a study of the underlying biases that affect minorities in science and ongoing efforts to change this trend

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Dottin discusses his current focus on science education and administration, and his research contributions over the course of his career

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Dottin discusses his work promoting collaborations in science and education

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Dottin describes his involvement in the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) initiative and his work with cyber classrooms - part one

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin describes his involvement in the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) initiative and his work with cyber classrooms - part two

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Robert Dottin shares his views on the politics of science and the debate on evolution

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Robert Dottin shares his views on climate change and evolution

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Robert Dottin talks about his role in establishing a collaborative network within the City University of New York and with other local universities

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Robert Dottin describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, and discusses the need for minorities in STEM

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Robert Dottin reflects upon his career and his contributions towards science

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Robert Dottin reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Robert Dottin talks about his children

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Robert Dottin talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Robert Dottin describes his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$4

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
Robert Dottin describes his involvement in the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) initiative and his work with cyber classrooms - part one
Robert Dottin describes his research on signal transduction in Dictyostelium discoideum
Transcript
Well you just mentioned before we ended the last session about the H3Africa [The Human Heredity and Health in Africa initiative] project, Francis Collins [American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP); currently serves as the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)].$$Um-hmm.$$So you want to elaborate some more about that?$$Well I mean that project arose because I had been teaching a bioinformatics course, introductory bioinformatics which I teach and I had been collaborating with people in Mississippi, several universities in Mississippi and Michigan on working on trying to build a cyber classroom where they could study something called visual analytics, which is a way of representing a lot of data in a visual way so that you can see changes. A pie chart is a visual analytic tool because even if it's based on millions of people, you know, you can have different colors to represent different groups or whatever, people who are tall or short or weigh within a particular weight and that kind of thing and you can show changes over time with these kinds of things. So, visual analytics is something that's really very important for large datasets and for representing them in a way that's easily understood. And there were grants given by the National Science Foundation [NSF] to a guy, colleague whose name is Rafael Zupe [ph.] and he has--he got a group of us together to work on this. And so, he's Nigerian and there were, and this collaboration involved people who were Chinese, whites, and all kinds from all these different universities. And this project was a pilot project and we started with him and we again provided some of the videoconferencing tools for people to work together and also we built a module which shows how you can look at evolution and teach evolution in a way online without being there and have these visual color schemes and heat maps to show differences in species across, as the evolution goes on for a particular protein. And so we built this environment and we got to know each other you know and so on and he knew what we had been doing here with Weill Cornell [Medical College, New York] and this clinical and translational research project now. So when the people in Nigeria wanted to have someone who might be able to help them with collaboration that's what they did. They called up, they asked us to come over. So Carlos, whom you met, and I went over, we did workshops there, we got people to understand the value in the technology and how it might work and it's you know, it's ongoing there. There's a meeting coming up with people in Nairobi [Kenya] and other parts of Africa, different countries now are collaborating and doing scientific collaborations and we're helping them with connecting and some of the bioinformatic things that they will be needing. Now we are not experts in bioinformatics, in genomics and high-throughput sequencing and all these techniques that they might be needing, and they will get those from other places. So our contributions--I mean we understand the projects and so on and so we are helping them in that way. Plus, some of the, two of the students now were identified and are now a part of our course so when we run the course on Saturdays, they come in. We either have the course in here and we have the students here or the students may be at home and they connect with cameras and so on and head pieces, they'll talk into the computers.$$So it's like Skype or something but with (unclear)?$$Sort of, but much more sophisticated because you can share the data and see the data that you're presenting and then talk to each other and they're seeing each other and they you know transmit information, jokes and everything and, but they don't have to come to the same place. So it's an experiment in a way on how that might work in the future. Seems to be working very well and we have of course an electronic classroom where you can put up information, slides and everything and people can work together. And that, so that's what some of them, two of the students from there are taking the course. We also do the videoconferencing for other projects in New York, reaching out to communities from here. This room is a studio and we reach--we get medical doctors and experts to come in and they give talks to people in many different places at the same time, churches and communities and so on. And they come up on the screens and they see each other and they talk about diabetes, hypertension and how to avoid it or they talk about, to people who are senior citizens in homes, how to avoid falls because a large fraction of those people who fall die as a result eventually very quickly because of the broken hips and all these things. So that's another topic. Sometimes we have a yoga person in here who might be getting people in different places to get up from their chairs and do yoga and those kinds of things. So it's prevention is the emphasis there rather than having to take more and more pills and so on. The emphasis there is on prevention. But in any case, with the Africa project it's more bioinformatics and genomics that they're focused on.$What was the most significant finding from your signal transduction research on [Dictyostelium discoideum]?$$Well the signal transduction work I did was done while I was at Johns Hopkins [University, Baltimore, Maryland] and when I came here [Hunter College, New York].$$Okay, so it's coming up?$$It's later, yeah.$$Okay, all right so Johns Hopkins [University, Baltimore, Maryland], when did you go to Johns Hopkins?$$Let's see. I think it was about the end of 1976. I can't remember exactly when but around then.$$And were you doing a post-doc at (unclear)?$$No, I was an assistant professor.$$Okay, you--$$I got a full time job.$$Okay, all right, associate professor of biology?$$Assistant.$$Assistant, okay. I'm sorry some of these are out of chronologic order.$$That's okay.$$I've got to jump around a little bit. Okay, so you were at Johns Hopkins for ten years.$$Yes.$$Yeah, from '76 [1976] to '86 [1986].$$Yes.$$And so what was the focus of your research at Johns Hopkins? I worked on the Dictyostelium [discoideum], that amoeba and that work was again concerned with regulation, gene, genetic control of development and things like that. And I, while I was there I did, I started studying signal transduction which was an important area of the research. Poorly understood at the time but now it's no big deal. The--this organism was a good one to do that experiment and it's--signal transduction has to do with how hormones work because these are molecules that are produced outside of cells and they activate cells to do certain things. And there, there are some hormones that enter the cell because they are hydrophobic. They can go through the membrane, like estrogen or something, and then they activate things inside of the cell, pathways. Tremendous biochemical reactions as you know you can stimulate, produce something in the brain and then all of a sudden it's having an affect in your liver or kidney or something. So those kinds of hormones, like the steroid hormones, that had---a lot of work was coming out on that from Yamamoto and other people on how they may work. But there are other hormones that never enter a cell and they have an effect. And in this organism we're working on, cyclic AMP [Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP, cyclic AMP or 3'-5'-cyclic adenosine monophosphate) is a second messenger important in many biological processes. cAMP is derived from adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and used for intracellular signal transduction in many different organisms, conveying the cAMP-dependent pathway] which is a small molecule, but it's charged, so it doesn't enter the cell, was having a profound effect on development of the cell. It changed a lot of things in the cell and allowed them to aggregate and so on. And there were people who were working on the mechanism of getting these cells sticky and aggregate--and what happens very early and one of them was at Hopkins too, Peter Devreotes, and we were looking more at gene expression. And what we found was that we could use the same molecules which were known not to enter cells but to bind on the surface and we found that those things were directly turning on genes, activating them inside the cell and that's what signal trans--well signal transduction means that something is acting on the outside and it's having an effect. Well we showed that it was actually turning on genes and at that time there were very few models where people could--there was a cancer kind of thing where some cell surface molecules were, seemed to be acting on specializing the cells or making them cancerous. But other than that, there was very little known and we took this and we showed that these molecules could bind to molecules on the outside of the cell called receptors and trigger a whole cascade of events. It's like one of these Rube Goldberg [Reuben Garrett Lucius "Rube" Goldberg was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor] things where you see the ball hits this and it hits something else and it activates something. And in the end you have the mouse jumps around or whatever. So this whole pathway was very interesting or it still is very interesting. But what we showed is that it activates the genes inside the cell and I would say that's an important, that was an important--and this was one of the few, first few papers on that area. Now there's thousands of papers on that, on how signal transduction works, literally thousands.$$Okay. But that time it was cutting edge?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$But not all the work you do as I pointed out is cutting edge. Sometimes you do stuff it's really mundane. The stuff I did at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts], it was published in a great journal [Cell] but in terms of the long term of, I think it you know it was okay but I think the signal transduction is more important and the lamda repressor things are more important.

Michael Spencer

Electrical Engineer, Computer Scientist and Engineering Professor Michael G. Spencer was born on March 9, 1952 in Detroit, Michigan. Spencer’s passion for teaching is part of a family tradition, his mother and grandparents were teachers. He grew up in Washington, D.C. and travelled to Ithaca, New York to study at Cornell University. He earned his B.S. degree in 1974 and his M.S. degree in 1975. Spencer worked at Bell Laboratories from 1974 to 1977 before returning to Cornell to receive his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering in 1981.
He joined the faculty of Howard University as an assistant professor in 1984. Spencer also founded the Materials Science Center for Excellence in 1984 and served as its director for the entirety of his career at Howard. He spent the next eighteen years working and researching at Howard, becoming a full professor in 1990 and the David and Lucile Packard Chaired Professor of Materials Science in 1999. During this time, Spencer also worked as a visiting scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s JET Propulsion Laboratory. In 1999, he returned to his alma mater, Cornell University as professor of electrical engineering. He served as associate dean of research and graduate studies for the College of Engineering from 2002 to 2008. Spencer directed the Wide Bandgap Laboratory where he researched semiconductor materials like Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN), as well as two dimensional semiconductors like graphene. He co-founded Widetronix, a company that builds low power long life betavoltaic batteries. Spencer has written over 130 publications concerning semiconductors and has also co-authored eleven United States patents.

Spencer has received much recognition for his research and teaching. In 1985, he received the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation. Spencer also received the QEM (Quality Education for Minorities) Giants of Science Award and the Allen Berman Research Publication Award from the Naval Research Laboratory. He served as one of the directors for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Nano-Fabrication Network. Spencer was a member of the program committee of the American Vacuum Society and the International Conference on Silicon Carbide and Related Materials. He also held memberships in the Electronic Materials Conference Organizing Committee and the Compound Semiconductor Symposium Organizing Committee. Spencer lives in Ithaca, New York.
Michael G. Spencer was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 5, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.158

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/5/2012

Last Name

Spencer

Middle Name

Gregg

Schools

Cornell University

New Hampton School

Jefferson Middle School Academy

La Salle Elementary School

Speakers Bureau

Yes

First Name

Michael

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

SPE63

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Adults

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $200-$300

Favorite Season

None

Speaker Bureau Notes

Honorarium $200-$300 (may be waived or negotiated depending on circumstance)

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

3/9/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Ithaca

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Electrical engineer, computer scientist, and engineering professor Michael Spencer (1952 - ) is a leader in materials science and holds eleven United States patents.

Employment

Bell Laboratories

Howard University

Cornell University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Michael Spencer's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer talks about the Denmark Vesey Revolt

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer talks about the history of Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about his ancestors in the Marines during the Revolutionary War

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer talks about his mother's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Michael Spencer describes his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Michael Spencer describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Michael Spencer describes his paternal great-grandfather acquiring freedom and becoming a teacher

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer describes how his paternal great-grandfather became a shoemaker

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer talks about his paternal great-grandfather losing his stocks in the Stock Market Crash of 1929

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer talks about his great-grandmother Sue Spencer's family pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer talks about his great-grandmother Sue Spencer's family pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about his father growing up in Frankfort, Kentucky

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer talks about his father's career as a beer salesman

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Michael Spencer describes how his parent's met

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Michael Spencer talks about his parents' marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer talks about his household as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer describes the neighborhoods he grew up in

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer talks about elementary school and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about the death of his father

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer talks about his mother's careers

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Michael Spencer talks about government officials his mother worked with

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Michael Spencer talks about his mother being part of African American society in Washington D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Michael Spencer talks about his junior high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer talks working with a graduate student on his science fair project

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer talks about Dr. Herman Branson's involvement in the discovery of the structure of DNA

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer talks about Dr. Herman Branson

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer describes how he decided to go to a prep school in New Hampshire

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about his experience at his prep school, New Hampton School, in New Hampshire

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer describes his science classes and extracurricular activities at his prep school, New Hampton School

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Michael Spencer talks about his interviews for admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Michael Spencer describes the racial tensions on Cornell University's campus when he attended

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer talks about the Africana Studies Department at Cornell University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer describes the engineering department at Cornell University

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer talks about the Black Electrical Engineers and alumni of Cornell University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer talks about his time as a member of the Nation of Islam

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about Minister Farrakhan and Malcolm X

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer talks about religion

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Michael Spencer talks about his education at Cornell University

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Michael Spencer describes the work environment at Bell Laboratories

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Michael Spencer describes his work at Bell Laboratories

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Michael Spencer talks about his doctoral dissertation

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer talks about his time as a professor at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer talks about doing research at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer talks about his former students at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer describes his decision to leave Howard University to become a professor at Cornell University

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about his research at Cornell University

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer talks about Widetronix, the company he cofounded

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Michael Spencer talks about the prospects of Widetronix

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Michael Spencer describes his publications and patents

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Michael Spencer reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Michael Spencer talks about STEM education in the United States

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Michael Spencer describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Michael Spencer talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Michael Spencer talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Michael Spencer describes his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

7$5

DAStory

2$9

DATitle
Michael Spencer describes his publications and patents
Michael Spencer describes the work environment at Bell Laboratories
Transcript
Tell us about some of your publications and would it be correct to generalize that you are publishing more at Cornell [University, Ithaca, New York] than you did at Howard [University, Washington, D.C.]?$$Yeah, I would say so. Certainly more in terms of numbers and also citations are higher, the number of citations are higher.$$Okay, that's when someone else uses your research?$$Yeah, when someone else--$$Cites what you're--$$--cites your work in their publication.$$Okay.$$Yeah.$$All right. What are some of your papers and I want you to talk about some of your patents too.$$Well, we have on the patent side, we have of course in a small company you always--patents are more important. So we have some patents on ways of getting more power out of beta voltaic batteries or nuclear batteries. So power meaning power density and so that's one major area of patenting. In terms of publications, we have, we did a lot of work on using something called scanning probe microscopes to get information about semiconductors. So a scanning probe microscope is based on the material that is piezoelectric. Now piezoelectric means that if you apply electricity to this material it moves a very, very small distance. So in a scanning probe unit you have a little tip which is moved very small distances by these piezoelectric manipulators and as that tip comes close to the surface of the semiconductor it will experience a force and that force that it experiences can be measured. Now using that force and a lot of other things related to it we can make very nice measurements about some of the properties of the material. We can determine what are the electric fields that are coming from dislocations and other problems and so we use that, those techniques. It's called Kelvin probe microscopy to characterize a material. And we were some of the first to do that and so that publication has received a lot--those series of papers have received a lot of citations and that work was started when I came to Cornell. Some of the more recent graphene work in which we have demonstrated a way of actually producing suspended membranes of Graphene. So I told you that graphene is one atomic layer thick. Well we can actually make a membrane that is suspended in space bound on either side, it's suspended and this one atomic layer is literally in space. And so you can actually see right through it with an electronic microscope. And it's really quite amazing that you can actually, that one atomic layer of atoms will self-support but the other amazing thing is you can actually make useful devices out of this one atomic layer. You can put it into vibration and you can make lots of things. So this particular way of suspending the membranes has also you know been given a lot of attention. We're completing a paper now in which we have demonstrated for the first time producing graphene on another material called sapphire and we have studied and we plan on submitting this to the journal 'Nature.' I'm very excited about it. We have studied the way in which the potential of the substrate will actually align the graphene films so that paper has yet to be submitted but it will be soon. And I don't remember what all the things that I put down, one of the other papers I put down on there. I think I probably put down something about a measuring properties of aluminum nitride which we've talked about and we also--and then there was the initial work on grain boundaries which we're very proud of. And you know there, I think there are a number of other things but I think, you know I have over one hundred and twenty publications so I think that's a good--I think right now is a good place to stop. (Laughter).$$Okay.$Now what kind of projects were you working on at Bell Labs and well tell me something about the environment of Bell Labs and as a work environment and what projects were you working on?$$So at Bell Laboratories was divided into divisions or areas, Area 10, Area 20, Area 30, Area 40, Area 50--10 was basic science, 20 was applied engineering, that was my area, 40 I believe was transmission I think or switching. I can't recall all of them. But I was in Area 20 and we did power supplies. I was the only black engineer at Area 20 and my first--and Area 20 had several, a couple of laboratories. A laboratory is a fairly large group of, fairly large group and then departments, laboratory department then groups. So, first departmental meeting one of the technicians raises the question about affirmative action hires. I'm the only black face in the room. It must have been fifty people and were they qualified, something to that affect. Oh god, anyway you asked about--$$Well how was that handled? We can't just skip over that. Now what--?$$How was that handled?$$Yeah.$$It wasn't handled. The question just laid there as the department head sort of moved on and didn't answer.$$There were no affirmative action hires in your department right?$$Well the implication was that I was the affirmative action hire.$$Right, right, right, yeah.$$Being the only black in the room. And it wasn't handled.$$So, well go on. So what was that typical of the atmosphere there or was it--did it get better?$$Well it wasn't typical but it wasn't atypical either. I think you were--I think the way you have to view Bell Labs is it had managers who were both, who were angels, some were angels and others were devils and others were ambivalent.$$Hmm, okay just like in the rest of life I guess?$$Hmm?$$Just like everything else in life?$$Pretty much.$$Every other area.$$Yeah.$$Okay, all right. So I've heard people--now I'll put it like--I've heard people say the people we've interviewed within this month have talked about how Bell Labs had such a wonderful you know, what a wonderful place it was to work because of the way all the you know research scientists were treated and engineers for the most part, freedom to you know explore things and they had well, they were well equipped and they had you know there was a lot of freedom at Bell Labs to explore things and that sort--that's what we were told.$$Well yeah that's absolutely right. That's probably, there were three places in the country to work and Bell Labs was one of them. As an MTS, member of the technical staff, I, you know I had a signature authority of a thousand dollars on my own as I recall. We were more in applied division. In the research area, Area 10, even more flexibility on what to work with. Bell Labs was a monopoly that wasn't very well controlled at that time and so the labs were run on one percent of the profits of the Bell system which was a huge amount of money and they didn't have to worry about getting money so that was always there. So it was a tremendous place to work, wonderful work was done. It has never been duplicated. Again, I'm very proud of the fact that I'm an alumnus of Bell Labs in a technical sense and you meet other people who are alumni of Bell Labs and as I said it has, was not duplicated.

Derrick Pitts

Astronomer Derrick Pitts was born on January 22, 1955 in the Tioga-Nicetown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a child, Pitts was fascinated by outer space and rockets. After graduating from Germantown Academy, he received his B.S. degree in geology from St. Lawrence University in 1978.

Pitts began working at The Franklin Institute as a young college student. He was hired as The Franklin Institute’s chief astronomer and planetarium director after completing his degree. In these roles, he developed and oversaw all of the Institute’s astronomy and space-related programs and exhibits, frequently hosted the live “Sky Tonight” planetarium show and interviewed John Glenn and Carl Sagan. Pitts also served as the original director of Tuttleman OMNIMAX Theater and as museum vice president. In 2002, he oversaw the renovation of The Franklin Institute’s Fels Planetarium and played an integral role in the design of the new astronomy exhibit, ‘Space Command.’ Pitts became the host of “SkyTalk” on WHYY Radio in 2008. One year later, he served as the United States spokesperson for the International Year of Astronomy. In 2011, Pitts was named a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Solar System Ambassador. He has appeared on many national television shows as a science expert including the Comedy Channel’s “Colbert Report” and “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” Pitts served as a regular contributor on Current TV’s Countdown with Keith Olberman as well as programs on CNN International and MSNBC.

Pitts has held numerous positions in academic and community organizations including serving as president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater St. Lawrence University and Widener University. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Mayor’s Liberty Bell, the St. Lawrence University Distinguished Alumni Award, the G. W. Carver Medal and Please Touch Museum’s “Great Friend To Kids” Award. Pitts was inducted into the Germantown Historical Society Hall of Fame and selected as one of the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science” by Science Spectrum Magazine in 2004. He received the 2010 David Rittenhouse Award and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from LaSalle University in 2011. Pitts lives with his wife Linda in the Wynnefield Heights section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Derrick Pitts was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 23, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.119

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/23/2012 |and| 3/25/2013

Last Name

Pitts

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

H.

Schools

Cleveland Elementary School

Elizabeth Duane Gillespie Junior High School

Germantown Academy

St. Lawrence University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Derrick

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

PIT29

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Lucia

Favorite Quote

Sure, Why Not.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Pennsylvania

Birth Date

1/22/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Philadelphia

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lamb Biryani

Short Description

Atmospheric scientist Derrick Pitts (1955 - ) was the chief astronomer and planetarium director for Philadelphia’s The Franklin Institute. As a noted scientist, he also appeared on national television programs.

Employment

Sackner Pharmacy

Sherwin Williams

Upholsters International Union

Franklin Institute

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts slates the interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts talks about his mother's career ambitions

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about meeting his grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about his father's life and career

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his father's military experience

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts talks about the similarities between him and his parents

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts talks about his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about his early appreciation for science

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about what his father taught him about the moon

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his scientific philosophy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts discusses how astronomical events excited him about science

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts talks about his relationship with his brother

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about the role of church in his life

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts discusses the conflict between religion and science

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts talks about his experience at Gillespie Junior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts describes how his neighborhood street helped him understand the sky

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about his childhood role model and favorite television show

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his junior high school mentors

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts describes one of his favorite science demonstrations

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts shares what inspires him to be a scientist and educator

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about his experience at Gillespie Junior High School

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about seeing the first moon landing

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts talks about the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts talks about his experience at Georgetown Academy

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about the schools that he and his brother attended

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his mentors in high school

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts talks about his favorite music teacher and his experience in the choir

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts talks about the first African American teacher at Germantown Academy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about his academic struggles and social triumphs

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about his best friend from Germantown Academy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts talks about his experience at Germantown Academy

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts talks about his decision to go to St. Lawrence University

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about learning how to be a better student

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his experience at St. Lawrence University

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts reflects on his career ambitions prior to graduating

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts discusses why he never went to graduate school

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about his career

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about the effect he has on youth by being on TV

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of Derrick Pitts interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts remembers his job offer at The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts talks about his first position at The Franklin Institute Science Museum observatory

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts describes the observatory at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts explains the difference between observatories and planetariums

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts remembers his early career options

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts recalls his early years at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts talks about his early roles at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Derrick Pitts remembers the leading directors at the Fels Planetarium

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts remembers the Fels Planetarium's early directors

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about Benjamin Franklin and his interest in science

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts describes his role as show producer at the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute Science Museum, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts talks about the influence of the television show 'Cosmos: A Personal Voyage' and its host Carl Sagan

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts remembers Carl Sagan

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts describes his role as show producer at the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute Science Museum, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts remembers the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts recalls his press conference following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts reflects upon the impact of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about his interest in science and astronomy

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts describes the history of planetariums

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts explains the use of an observatory

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about the black community's reception to his career success

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about the impact of new technologies at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts describes his typical workday and how it's impacted his personal life

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts remembers his promotions

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about African Americans at The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts talks about African Americans in the field of astronomy

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts talks about the impact of IMAX technology

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts describes the organizational restructuring at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts remembers developing the television program 'Neptune All Night'

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts describes the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI)

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts talks about the impact of the internet on astronomy

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts describes his work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts remembers considering leaving The Franklin Institute Science Museum in the late 1990s

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts recalls his work on a cruise ship to view a total solar eclipse, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts recalls his work on a cruise ship to view a total solar eclipse, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts remembers the hiring of Dennis Wint at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts describes Dennis Wint

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts recalls his appearances on 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann'

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts talks about the renovations of the Joel N. Bloom Observatory at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts talks about the developments at The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts talks about African American representation in the sciences

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts describes his work with the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts talks about his civic work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts remembers Major General Charles Bolden, Jr.

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts recalls the star party at the White House

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts talks about the future of The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts describes his work on national television programs as a science communicator

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Derrick Pitts describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Derrick Pitts reflects upon his life

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Derrick Pitts reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Derrick Pitts describes Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tape: 13 Story: 5 - Derrick Pitts talks about his family

Tape: 13 Story: 6 - Derrick Pitts reflects upon the state of STEM education

Tape: 13 Story: 7 - Derrick Pitts talks about developing children's interest in science

Tape: 13 Story: 8 - Derrick Pitts recalls the Chelyabinsk Event

Tape: 13 Story: 9 - Derrick Pitts describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

8$3

DATitle
Derrick Pitts describes how his neighborhood street helped him understand the sky
Derrick Pitts reflects on his career ambitions prior to graduating
Transcript
Okay, and I think I read also that you, when you discovered, I mean the layout of the neighborhood helped you to look at the sky.$$Oh, yes. So there were a couple of things I realized about the street that I lived on. After I started to read about astronomy and then understand about the motions of the sun, moon and planets and the sky and the orientation that we have on the planet and our relationship as, you know, living on the surface, looking at the sky and those sorts of things, I began to understand something about the orientation of the street I lived on. And the 1700 block of 17th, 1700 block Pacific Street, runs East-West. On the Eastern end of the street is Roche (ph.) Farm Market where we'd go to buy eggs, scrapple, bacon, chicken, stuff like that. Over hear on the Western end is 18th Street, and then the 1800 block and going up to 20th Street and beyond. But I recognize that this is an East-West street. Now, across from us is this "T" intersection that's just about two houses over to the East from us. So there's a street that's now running North-South that intersects with this East-West street. And what I notice is that the sun rises down here over Roche's Farm Market, passes high overhead and sets down here on this end of the street. And I notice that on Bovere (ph.) Street in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky in the middle of the day, the entire street is illuminated. But in the morning, the Western side of the street is illuminated and the Eastern side isn't. It's in shadow because the sun hasn't come across. And as the sun passes, the reverse happens. The Western side of the street is in the shade. The Eastern side is illuminated. So I'm beginning to recognize that at high noon in the summer, this street is fully illuminated, no shadows at all. So I can now read the motion of whatever it is, the earth or the sun. I'm reading one of these, and so I'm starting to think about mechanics, planetary mechanics. So I realize that in the, in the room that I have, in my room growing up, the room I sleep in, I can look out a window that looks to the West. But since we're a row house, there's another house right across from my window, not fifteen feet away. Looking at the wall of that house, of course, is the matching window on the other side. But above that window is a course of bricks, coming down from the roof, down to the top of the window. In the morning, what I can do is I can look out, and I can see this course of bricks. And depending on how many of the courses of bricks are illuminated, I can determine what time it is because of the rising sun. So now, this becomes a celestial clock for me. It's like a sundial or any other kind of, you know, solar clock because I can use the divisions to mark time. And that's what I do with it. I use those divisions to mark time. And I can put this together with the illumination of the street and all this other sort of stuff and have a much better grip or understanding on the motions of the earth on its axis and its motion through space during the course of the year because of the changing angle of sunlight through the course of the year. So now what happens is the world becomes a big solar clock for me because now I look at any building or any fixed object and say, hah, I can look at the shadow and figure out direction from that. And so that's what I begin to do. And so, now in my mind, I carry with me an image of any of these areas that I've lived or worked in that are fully illuminated and I can compare views of what they look like at different parts of the day with where I am to figure out direction.$$Okay.$$Just a fun little thing to play with.$$Now, did you watch the science TV shows like 'Watch Mr. Wizard' and--$$I did 'Watch Mr. Wizard'. I saw Mr. Wizard, not all the time, but I did see Mr. Wizard. Any other science programs that were on, I watched. So in, by 1966, 'Star Trek' is now available. And I begin to watch 'Star Trek' as much as I can. There are other science programs on, but they're pretty cheesy. You know, there's the 'Time Machine', and there's 'Lost in Space', and you know, 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' and these are all these, you know, sort of Irwin Allen, cheesy, you know, productions of all this stuff that happens. And I remember that there are two programs that I'm really enthralled with. One is 'Sea Hunt', starring Lloyd Bridges, Mike Nelson. He's a scuba diver. So, you know, I've also got this interest in scuba diving too because it's the undersea world. So I watch that all the time. And then once 'Star Trek' becomes available, I start to watch 'Star Trek' whenever I can. And 'Star Trek' really, now, begins to embody this fantasy about this future society that travels in space freely, has all the technological advantages that anybody would wanna have and is going around exploring the galaxy at warp speed. What could be better?$$Okay, we're gonna pause right here.$Okay, now, when you're on the verge of graduation, what are you thinking about the next step? Are you going to graduate school now?$$Well, on the verge of graduating I'm thinking, hum, I don't know what I wanna do in graduate school yet. So, let me take some time off and I'll, I'll get a job and do a little work and earn some money and figure out what I wanna do. So the catch here is that in the summer of 1976 and the summer of 1977, I'm back here in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]--well, 1976, I'm here for the whole summer. 1977, I'm here for part of the summer. So in 1976, I have a job, I've found a job. I apply to four places around Philadelphia. I can only remember two of them now. One of them is the Tasty Baking Company [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] that's in the neighborhood near where I live, and the other one is the Franklin Institute Science Museum [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]. So I get a job. I'm hired at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. And I apply for a job as a, you know, I come in looking for a job as a science explainer. The head of security wants to make me a security guard because I'm a tall guy. And I explain to him, no, I'm not here for a security position. I'm here for a science explainer position. And he can't quite seem to get that through his head that I'm not here to do security. He automatically assumes that I'm gonna be a security guy. No, I'm not. So, I finally go to interview with the director of personnel for the museum at that time, a guy named Don Gates. And I say to Don, I'm here to be a science explainer. I'm not here to be a security guy. And he asked me about my education. And he says, yeah, you should be a science explainer. So I get a job in the summer of 1976 as a science explainer. And I worked the hours two to ten p.m. I come in at two o'clock in the afternoon. I work until ten o'clock at night. We're open that late because the expectation is that during the summer of 1976, there's gonna be a huge crowd of people coming to the Franklin Institute in the evening to celebrate the bicentennial. Hardly anybody comes. So I'm here with a great group of other college students who are also hired to be science explainers. And we all learn all kinds of skills from each other. This is where I learned how to juggle and all kinds of crazy things like that. But we also do incredible science demonstrations. The best I've ever seen were done during these times when I was here as a science explainer. And I also spend most of my time in the observatory working with two University of Pennsylvania graduate students in astronomy. Gopaul (ph.) Colaumbi (ph.) and Carol Ambrewster (ph.). They both graduated PhD from University of Pennsylvania. I do not know where Gopaul went to, but I do know that Carol Ambrewster ended up as a professor at Villanova [University, Villanova, Pennsylvania]. She's still there or has retired just recently. There was another PhD candidate called Tony Hull, who worked here. And I learned a tremendous amount from those three, just a tremendous amount from those three. And they really began to shape my career as a science explainer in astronomy. Tony Hull, I have heard from every now and then. He left the Franklin Institute, left Philadelphia, became an instrument designer for a group called 'Perkin-Elmer', an optical company. And I would hear from him every now and then; never heard from Gopaul Colaumbi ever again and occasionally heard from Carol Ambrewster now and then. So, I go back to school, finish out that year, come back to Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] in the summer, work for half a summer here at Franklin Institute and then go do geology field, my geology field studies for the rest of that summer; go back and finish my senior year. One geology course and two physics courses and astronomy, some environmental studies stuff and some humanities stuff. And in about April, March--no, it was actually, it was actually March of that year, I get a letter from the Director of Education, the Assistant Director of Education, Charles Penneman (ph.) offering me a job at the Franklin Institute, a full-time position when I graduate. So I leave school. I know what I'm gonna do. I have a job, and it's gonna pay me $7,000.00 a year. Wow, fantastic. So I come to the Franklin Institute and start work here. And my plan is I'm gonna work for a year or two and then I'm gonna go to graduate school. I'm either gonna go in geology or astronomy. I don't know which one. But I get to Franklin Institute and I have the most remarkable experience. I have this fantastic job, explaining science to people, helping people understand how science works, how the process of science works and what science really is. And I've now learned a ton about this from my work as a geology student at St. Lawrence University [Canton, New York] and as a physics student at St. Lawrence University. I also learn a bunch of chemistry stuff because I'm also doing environmental studies on the side. So I learn all this stuff about the process of science from all these guys at St. Lawrence University. There's a whole bunch of other people I haven't mentioned, but they were all in there. And I bring that to bear here at the work that I start doing at Franklin. So I'm here for a year or two, and they offer me a higher position, more challenging with more stuff to do. One of those jobs is, we want you to concentrate on working in the observatory. I say, wow, great. I'd love to do that. So I figure I'll spend a couple of years doing this, and I figure I'm gonna spend five years, and then I'm gonna make a decision and get out of here. The end of the fifth year, I get an offer to do the next higher level thing. And my career here at Franklin has been exactly that. Every five years I've been offered something better and greater to do. And every, and every one of those five years, it has been a tremendous experience of new and better and greater stuff. And so I've never been able to leave because I've always had these new, better experiences.

Woodrow Whitlow, Jr.

Aerospace engineer and federal government administrator Woodrow Whitlow, Jr. was born on December 13, 1952 in Inkster, Michigan. A quick-learner, he excelled at math and science. Whitlow aspired to be a chemist until space missions in the 1960s captured his imagination, changing his career goal to astronaut. Whitlow received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974, 1975 and 1979, respectively.

Whitlow's long career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began in 1979, when he was hired as a research scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. At Langley, he specialized in fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, and aeroelasticity. He rose quickly to become a senior research scientist and headed various specialty branches in astrophysics and aeronautics. In 1994, Whitlow became the Director of the Critical Technologies Division in the Office of Aeronautics at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He then moved to the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio in 1998, where he served as the Director of Research and Technology, among other positions. Whitlow was made Deputy Director of the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center in 2003 and oversaw launch-related services and activities until 2005 when he was appointed to Director of the NASA Glenn Research Center. In 2010, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden named Whitlow the Associate Administrator for the Mission Support Directorate at NASA Headquarters. He retired in August of 2013 and later became Executive in Residence at the Cleveland State University Washkewicz College of Engineering.

Throughout his career, Whitlow has written over forty technical papers, most in the areas of unsteady transonic flow, aeroelasticity and propulsion. His awards include NASA’s Distinguished Service Honor Medal—the Agency’s highest honor; the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive—the highest award for federal executives; Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive; U.S. Black Engineer of the Year in Government; the NASA Exceptional Service Honor Medal; the NASA Equal Opportunity Honor Medal; the (British) Institution of Mechanical Engineers William Sweet Smith Prize; the Minorities in Research Science Scientist-of-the-Year Award; and the National Society of Black Engineers Distinguished Engineer of the Year Award. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics elected him as a Fellow in 2010. He also holds an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Cranfield University.

Woodrow Whitlow, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 3, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.070

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/3/2012

Last Name

Whitlow

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Carver Elementary School

Fellrath Junior High School

Inkster High School

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any, with sufficient notice

First Name

Woodrow

Birth City, State, Country

Inkster

HM ID

WHI17

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

College students, adults, STEM faculty and students, technical companies and organizations

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $3,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Islands

Favorite Quote

Highlight a player when you see him in the street.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

12/13/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Cleveland

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lobster

Short Description

Aerospace engineer and federal government administrator Woodrow Whitlow, Jr. (1952 - ) has worked for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for over thirty years serving as Associate Administrator for Mission Support at NASA Headquarters and director of the NASA Glenn Research Center.

Employment

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) John H. Glenn Research Center

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory John F. Kennedy Space Center

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Woodrow Whitlow's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Woodrow Whitlow lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his mother, Willie Mae Whitlow

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Woodrow Whitlow describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Woodrow Whitlow describes the history of Inkster, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Woodrow Whitlow describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Woodrow Whitlow describes how the space race inspired him

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his childhood interest in sports

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his interest in science and in space

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his experience at Inkster High School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the 1967 Detroit riots

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his exposure to Detroit-area museums

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his family's educational pursuits

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the 1969 moon landing

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his and others' reactions to Dr. King's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about Star Trek

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his first impression of Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his experience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the role of church in his life

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his doctoral research on unstable transonic flow

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his hiring at NASA's Langley Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the influence of Katherine G. Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about Harriett Jenkins

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his work at NASA's Langley Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the importance of space exploration in 1979

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about transonic flow and aircraft safety

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about Guion Bluford's space flight

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about wanting to become an astronaut

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his work on computer models and his desire to become an astronaut

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about NASA's Challenger disaster

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the politics of space exploration

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his efforts to attract minority students to science

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about becoming the U.S. Black Engineer of the Year

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about Charles Bolden and Mae Jemison

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about greater acceptance of minorities at NASA

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his work as the Director of the Critical Technologies Division

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his work at the John Glenn Research Center

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the future of aircraft engineering

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his work at the Glenn Research Center

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about honors that he has received

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Woodrow Whitlow describes a typical day at work

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Woodrow Whitlow describes his contributions as a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about the end of NASA's shuttle program

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Woodrow Whitlow shares his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Woodrow Whitlow talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

1$4

DATitle
Woodrow Whitlow describes his experience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Woodrow Whitlow talks about his work at the Glenn Research Center
Transcript
Tell us your study schedule. You just told it to me off camera but--$$Oh, I would--of course I'm not an early morning person so I would try not--and the institute would open at nine o'clock so I'd try not to get 9 o'clock classes. But you know I would take the classes during the day and if there were breaks I would study. But then when I get back to my dorm room at night I would typically study to you know two, three, four o'clock in the morning every night. So it was--worked hard. But then on Thursday nights I would just study all night, wouldn't go to bed and because I knew if just make it through the classes on Friday then I had you know the weekend without having to go to classes to, you know to recover. So make it through Friday, study some. Friday evening then you know just kind of take a break on Friday nights and you know maybe go to a movie, go somewhere. You know we had the movie series on campus, go to a movie just rest and relax and then sleep late Saturday. And we'd go to the soul food, normally we'd go to the soul food restaurant on Saturday in Boston, Bob the chef. So we'd go down there. That was the big thing, we'd go to Bob the chef on Saturday, get you a good soul food meal and then come back and maybe, and start picking up the routine. If not Saturday night then first thing Sunday morning because--depending on you know what you had to turn in on Monday, you know maybe pick it up Saturday night. If not, maybe rest a little bit Saturday and then get up Sunday and start running again.$$Okay. Now who are some of your instructors there and yeah who are some of the instructors that you remember and what were they teaching you?$$I can remember of course Wes Harris was--he you now he taught fluid dynamics in the aeronautics department. But when he came I was--he came in my junior year and so we started working together. And so he ended up being my Masters Thesis supervisor and my Doctoral Thesis chairman. And so he's someone who really--he's the one who really taught me about academic excellence and so I remember him. And then people like Eugene Covert who taught aerodynamics, Judd Baron taught gas dynamics, Jack Kerabrock (ph.) taught propulsion systems, Jim Marr (ph.) taught structures. So these are all the professors in the aero department. And then there was Professor Orzag in the math department taught the advanced calculus courses and then the other--there was one guy, I did a concentration, under--humanities concentration in psychology. And there was one, Professor Hans Torber (ph.) I can remember. And I did it, I picked, I had to pick some humanities concentration and the reason I picked psychology is I had heard about this Hans Torber, this psychology professor. And I said well maybe he can make humanities interesting. So I--and he did. So I took--and he taught brain science. Then I took learning theory and then another, some other psychology courses. But those are some of the ones, you know--and then all the guys in the aero department, Professor Widnall and--Sheila Widnall [Sheila Marie Evans Widnall]--she actually became secretary of the air force for a while before she went back to MIT. And I talked about Professor Marr and instructors and just a great group of guys in the aero department who were Course 16 as we affectionately refer to it as. We don't do names at MIT, we do numbers.$$Really? You--$$Yeah, a course--$$People have numbers?$$Yeah, I can tell you the courses I took like my math course, I took 8--physics course is 801, 802, 803. My--because physics is Course 8. My math courses I took 1801, 1802 and 1803. And then I took advanced calculus, 18075, 18076. And then I took in Double E, a course 6.14 and the office is in Building 37 and the other aero is Building 35 and some was in Building 9. And so I don't know the names of a lot of stuff at MIT but I can tell you the numbers associated with it.$$Okay. Now what was--now was it exciting being around so many people with the same kind of focus of you know--?$$It was motivating, exciting and you know and you know it--and it, it really was. I'm at MIT, you know, you heard--I didn't know what MIT was but you know when you hear people talk about bright people, say oh yeah, he's going to go to MIT. Or you watch, you see it on TV, even now you say oh yeah, well this person's from MIT. And so yeah to be there in that environment--and at first it was a little intimidating. And you know the one thing, my freshman year you know these, hear these students at the other table and they were talking about some math thing and then they pulled out, a napkin out and they start writing on this napkin and then they left. And we were all sitting around and I picked the napkin up and I looked at it and I said this not even writing. Even I know that this is not correct what's on this napkin. So I said well, yeah well I can make it through here. So I went from, I'm going to go to MIT for one year and transfer to ended up staying there for nine years.$Okay. What were some of the highlights of your term as director of the NASA Glenn Research Center?$$Well when I became center director we really, the agency made a big change in direction and to be a viable center, we had to make a big change in direction. So leading that change to make us, to increase our emphasis on more space systems research and development to--we won major roles in what was then the Project Constellation which was the program to--Program Constellation to put people permanently on the moon and to go to Mars and so our work in developing a service module which would be the power, propulsion and communications for the capsule that the astronauts would ride in. Our role, went in a role there, went in a role and developed and upper state simulator for a test vehicle and that vehicle actually flew. So to be at the Kennedy Space Center when that thing lifted off with that upper stage that had been built by Glenn employees on it, that was a very proud moment and securing roles in things like electric propulsion for deep space missions and while continuing to excel in our traditional areas in aeronautics. And those were really high points is to see the center make this big turn and do it successfully and to increase the business base you know from less than 400 million to near 800 million dollars a year, that's--those are highlights.$$Okay. Now you were there until, for about five years, right?$$Yeah, I was there nearly years again and that was as center director.