Stories Behind the Tech We Take for Granted
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
~ Using GPS? Thank Gladys West and her Growth Mindset
Are you ever amazed by how your brain just knows how to get you where you’re going when
you’re in a familiar area? It's like a mini-GPS is built right in there.
While I'm in awe of my own internal charting system, nothing compares to the abilities of modern digital Global Positioning Systems. Just last week, GPS saved my sanity as I quickly typed in the name of a new park to get the clamoring kids in the back seat of my car some much needed outdoor playtime.
For that quick and painless experience, I say “Thank you, Dr. Gladys West!!”
Dr. West is an inspiration to everyone to step outside the safety of what we know and explore the possibilities of the world.
Gladys West grew up on a sharecropping farm in the 1930s, but she was determined to not become a farmer. She became a dedicated student and worked diligently on her education. She overcame financial adversity and was able to attend college on the merits of her schoolwork, earning a full scholarship to Virginia State College where she studied mathematics.
In 1956, she became the second black woman ever hired at the Naval Proving Grounds. She worked as a programmer on large-scale computers the size of refrigerators.
In the early 60’s, her work on an astronomical study proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. This work led to her specializing in analysis of satellite data and programming complex algorithms to create a highly accurate model of the Earth’s shape, taking into account gravitational, tidal, and other forces.
This model of the Earth is what modern GPS is based on.
Dr. West retired after 42 years and went on to further her education, earning her PhD in Public Administration at Virginia Tech. In 2018, her achievements were recognized as she was inducted into the US Air Force Hall of Fame.
Gladys West continually challenged and elevated herself through education in technology so that she was equipped to change the world. I can only imagine the innovations that today’s children will make in technology that will take us even further - especially with a role model like Dr. West to look up to.