HAMLET — Joan E. Higginbotham, a retired NASA astronaut, will be paying a visit to Richmond County next week.
Communities in Schools is hosting an end-of-year celebration for CIS students Tuesday at the Cole Auditorium followed by a free public program featuring Higginbotham as guest speaker.
Richmond County CIS Executive Director Fallon Brewington believes Higginbotham is the perfect choice to speak at the event for two primary reasons; first, for being resolute in achieving her goals despite obstacles in her path, and second, for being a woman in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics career at a time when doing so was still rare.
“She was told no the first time she applied for NASA,” said Brewington. “But she wanted to go to space, so she found out what she needed and she went back to school and did everything she needed to do and got accepted.”
Brewington said it’s important that young women believe they can explore space, make scientific breakthroughs and become engineers. Those careers require extensive knowledge of science and math.
Higginbotham said she is looking forward to speaking to the community Tuesday night.
“Mayor (Antonio) Blue is a friend of my husband’s,” she said. “They have met several times at political events, and he asked if I would be interested. And of course, I am.”
Blue, the mayor of Dobbins Heights, is a Democrat challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson in November’s congressional race.
Higginbotham has a collection of messages — or “life lessons” — she plans to share with the youth during her time behind the microphone.
“My message is really simple,” she said. “I’m just like everyone else. I didn’t grow up in a rural area, I’m from Chicago. I came from what I consider to be a very traditional family: a mom, a dad, brothers, sisters. I had hurdles. In life, you have to decide if you are going to let life define you, or if you are going to define your life.”
Rejected by NASA when she first applied, she did not give up.
“I could have said, ‘Poor me, I didn’t make it.’ It’s easy to quit, easiest thing in the world. But if you really want something you have to go after it,” she said.
She went after it by earning three college degrees in the sciences, and NASA accepted her the second time she applied. Higginbotham began her career in 1987 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
From Dec. 9—22, 2006, Higginbotham was part of the seven-member crew working on the International Space Station outpost. The crew was sent to complete four space walks to maintain the space station and drop off a new crewmember. She spent nearly 13 days on the mission before returning to Earth.
In late 2007, Higginbotham retired from NASA after 20 years of service. She has won many awards and served on several boards and committees in addition to being a successful businesswoman and public speaker.
Higginbotham will speak at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Richmond Community College’s Cole Auditorium in Hamlet.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.