The 2020 MLK Regional Celebration featured keynote speaker Ruth Jones, NASA’s branch chief at the Industrial Safety Branch of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
Jones was the first woman to graduate from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with a degree in physics. She started as an accounting major, but when she switched to physics, she knew NASA was in her future.
“Once I changed my degree to physics, I said, ‘You know what, … I want to work for NASA,’” Jones said. “At that time, I just thought NASA did astronaut things, but once I started my internship there, I learned there were other opportunities.”
Jones went on to Alabama A&M University to continue her education and work in a co-op position for NASA. She was the second woman in Alabama to earn a doctoral degree in physics.
After she earned her degree, she was offered a full-time position at NASA and has been there ever since.
As a way to give back, Jones began speaking at the schools she attended growing up about her experience in college and NASA. She wanted to show children in her hometown that it is possible to excel no matter where you are from or what you look like.
Quangi Glenn, a social work senior, said the event was insightful and meaningful to the whole community.
“Perseverance is key, and when you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything,” Glenn said.
When Jones started at NASA, she was one of the youngest people in her workplace. She emphasized knowing your subject matter when being a young or new person in a job is crucial.
She said some of her coworkers at NASA were reluctant to help her when she needed it because they feared she might be trying to take their jobs.
Many of her first coworkers were old enough to be her parents, she said.
“Working for NASA, there were a lot of obstacles that I faced because I was pretty much a triple threat being so young,” Jones said. “I was also black, and I was a female. Know your subject matter, but if you don’t know your subject matter, it’s OK to say that you don’t know and ask questions.”
Recipients of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Scholarship Program also attended and received recognition for their demonstration of Dr. King’s philosophies in their region.
The yearly Drum Major Awards were presented to community members who have dedicated years of service to their communities. Recipients were Dave Stickles, Carolyn Wierda and the late Charles McNair.
Stickles received the award for his dedication to the Midland County community in promoting STEM, organizing Sci-Fest and volunteering with Midland Special Olympics and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Wierda, SVSU’s special assistant to the president for STEM initiatives, previously worked as a teacher, principal and superintendent for Bay City Public Schools.
McNair passed away in December 2019 but worked in education for 50 years. McNair also helped organize the Saginaw African Cultural Festival for more than 30 years.