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How 2 Black men created a pipeline to attract, retain more people of color at NASA Glenn

Posted at 9:29 PM, Feb 16, 2022

CLEVELAND — The effort, research and training it takes to execute a space liftoff is by no means a one-person job.

The work of several people helps a rocket blast to space, people like Dr. Julian Earls and Dr. Woodrow Whitlow who both spent decades at NASA and served as director of the Glenn Research Center.

Earls served as director from 2003 to 2005, after working his way through the ranks.

“I worked in each management level here at the center, so I was really ready by the time I got to be a center director in knowing what was necessary from my perspective in each one of those positions,” said Earls.

But quite often Earls said he led teams and sat in meetings with very few people who looked like him.

“Those days we were very large about 5000 almost 6000 employees, less than 60 were African American scientists,” said Earls.

So Earls said he dedicated himself to launching the careers of black men and women.

Among Earls’ efforts to attract and retain diverse candidates, he said he created the first equal employment opportunity committee at Glenn, rolled out a pipeline to hire students from historically black colleges and universities, and he also has three scholarship programs, all for HBCU students.

“It’s extremely important to hire and retain diverse candidates because we want the best minds and the best minds come in people of all races, genders and political persuasions,” said Earls.

Earls was the second Black center director of Glenn behind Donald Campbell.

“We have to make sure that we stop being so excited about being the first, there's too many firsts yet to be in this nation,” said Earls.

When Earls retired he made sure he helped choose his successor, the third black director of NASA Glenn; Whitlow.

“It’s good to know that there's somebody out there that you can count on, somebody out there that believes in you,” said Whitlow.

Whitlow had several people who believed in him during his career, including Mary Jackson who was NASA’s first Black female engineer and widely known as the human-computer.

“Mary is like everybody's grandmother when African Americans would come to Langley Research Center,” said Whitlow.

Jackson’s struggle working as a black woman for NASA in the 50s was depicted in the film Hidden Figures which showed how she fought racism while helping America win the space race.

“She [Jackson] would explain this what you have to do, this is what really goes on and these are the things you have to do to get ahead,” said Whitlow.

Whitlow did indeed get ahead and he said he was committed to lifting up other people of color in the process.

“I would personally go to all their events and I would look for candidates and bring their resumes back to tell my team these are diverse candidates that we should consider,” said Whitlow.

There’s a lasting legacy that both men leave at NASA Glenn that is still felt today.

“It’s not what you do as much as what you create,” said Earls. “My position has always been if you rise to a position of power and influence and don't use that power and influence to serve your people, then it's wasted power, you don't deserve the position.”

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