The Irene and Curry Roberts Lecture
Would you imagine that a young Black girl growing up in rural Virginia during the Jim Crow era would go on transform our world? This is the story of Dr. Gladys West (b. 1930), a mathematician who helped develop GPS technology while working at the Dahlgren Naval Surface Weapons Center for more than 40 years. Like many “hidden figures” in the defense and aerospace industries, West had to overcome the prevailing racism and sexism of the day, and her contributions went largely unrecognized until recently.
When Dr. West arrived at Dahlgren in 1956, she was only one of four African Americans at the lab, and only the second woman. Specializing in the field of satellite geodesy—the science of measuring the shape and size of the earth from space—she created algorithms and programs for analyzing satellite data using early super computers. Her work contributed to numerous projects, including GPS and SEASAT, the first satellite to map oceans from space. As one of her colleagues noted, “Her competence, not her color, defined her.”
This panel conversation will explore the life and legacy of Dr. West, from her determined pursuit of education, through her distinguished career at Dahlgren, to her continuing efforts to inspire young STEM students.
Further Reading Resource List provided by CRRL
Speaker: Karen Sherry
Karen Sherry, Speaker
Dr. Karen Sherry is a curator specializing in American history and culture with 20 years of museum experience. Since 2017, she has served as a curator at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) in Richmond, where she organized the exhibitions Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality and Agents of Change: Female Activism in Virginia from Women’s Suffrage to Today. Previously, she held curatorial positions at the Portland Museum of Art (Maine, 2012–2015) and Brooklyn Museum (2005–2012). Sherry has published, lectured, and organized exhibitions on a range of topics related to American history and culture. She has also received numerous fellowships and grants, including from the National Endowment for the Arts, Luce Foundation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Smithsonian Institution. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in art history from the University of Delaware, and a B.A. from Boston University.
Carolyn West Oglesby, Panelist
Dr. Carolyn W. Oglesby is the oldest of three children of Mr. Ira and Dr. Gladys West. She is married to Barry Oglesby. She has a son/daughter in law, a stepdaughter/son in law, and three grandchildren. Carolyn has a BA in Economics from Mary Washington College, an MBA from Averett University, and a PhD in Organization and Management, specializing in Human Resource Management, from Capella University.Carolyn has worked at Marine Corps Systems Command for eighteen years. After eleven years as a Financial Manager, she is now the Supervisory Competency Manager for the Financial Managers. Her job entails hiring, mentoring, career counseling, placement, and training.
Carolyn is an active member of Shiloh Baptist Church (New Site) in Fredericksburg, VA, where she serves as a Deacon and is a member of the Christian Education Ministry. She is actively involved in Xi Upsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., where her passion is working with the high school students in motivating, engaging and assisting the students in reaching their maximum potential.
In her leisure time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling with her husband, playing the piano, reading, working out, and trying new recipes. Carolyn feels that one word summarizes her life: BLESSED!
Alan Dean, Panelist
Alan Dean was employed at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division of the Naval Sea Systems Command from July 1974 thru 3 Jan 2017. He earned his Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Lowell Technological Institute in Lowell MA. After arriving at NSWCDD, he completed a Master of Science Degree in Computers and Electronics Engineering from Virginia Tech in 1980. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1998 and completed a second advanced degree, a Masters of Arts Degree, from University of Mary Washington in 2001. While at Dahlgren, he worked for Ira West, husband of Dr. Gladys West, and the Anti-Submarine Warfare Program. He has taught a variety of college-level courses in the fields of mathematics, computer science, and engineering in an adjunct capacity at both community college (in the 80s) and at University of Mary Washington since 1999. He is currently teaching CPSC302 – Ethics for the Information Age – at UMW.
Marvin Jackson, Panelist
Mr. Jackson, a Washington, DC native, is a graduate of Bowie State University with a B.A. degree in Political Science. He has been the game announcer for all basketball and football home games for Bowie State University for a record 30 years. He was inducted into the Bowie State Sports Hall of Fame for his contributions as a former two-time MVP, team captain and All Conference baseball player.
He has been an award-winning television producer and host of Metro Scene, Sideline Report, and Destinations for the past twenty-two years at PGCTV in Maryland. The programs feature public affairs, performing arts and sports, as well as human interest stories in Prince Georges County and in the DMV. He has received more than thirty local and national Telly Awards for production and hosting.
Mr. Jackson is the co-author of the book, It Began With A Dream, the memoir and life story of Dr. Gladys B. West, a mathematician with the U.S. Government whose calculations contributed to the creation of the Global Positioning System (GPS). She started her career in 1956 and is considered a hidden figure. Her path from segregation to innovation is truly inspiring and she has been recognized nationally and internationally for her incredible career.