Olympia LePoint, An Engineer Who Helped Launch 28 NASA Space Shuttles, Explains Why It’s Crucial That More Black Women Enter STEM Fields: ‘ We Offer New Insight’
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By Niara Savage, The Atlanta Black Star
Olympia LePoint’s story is one of resilience and triumph. Born in South Los Angeles as one of several children raised by a single mother, the 44-year-old has made a formidable impression on the STEM world.
Once awarded the “Boeing Professional Excellence Award,” LePoint has helped design and launch 28 NASA space shuttles between 1998 and 2007.
In 1998 at the age of 21, LePoint accepted a job at Boeing, which directly supports NASA, and worked as a reliability engineer for about 10 years. Her job included using mathematics to determine the likelihood of catastrophic explosions during flight to help people understand the risk of space flight, building rockets, and designing engine technology.
LePoint’s signature authorized space shuttle main engine tests, and she helped contain engine explosions to make launches safe for astronauts.
When LePoint, in her 20s at the time, entered the room, everyone turned to look at her. “I remember everyone turning and they were looking at me like ‘what is she doing here?’ And then they found out I was there as one of the experts to help provide insight.”
But LePoint’s journey to such a meeting was not without its obstacles. She grew up in poverty in a neighborhood fraught with gang violence. “Every type of challenge that you can imagine was thrown my way,” said LePoint, who dreamed of a career in propulsion science since childhood.
As the U.S. continues to rank low in math and science education among industrialized countries, LePoint has set out to inspire the next generations of global problem-solvers using STEM.
On the value and importance of Black women in STEM, LePoint said, “We offer new insight and a holistic type of thinking and problem-solving … that no other group of people bring.”
Data released in 2013 by the National Science Foundation showed that Black women held just 2 percent of jobs in the science and engineering fields.
One of the major barriers for Blacks pursuing careers in STEM is a lack of proficiency in mathematics, LePoint noted. Her book “Mathaphobia,” published in 2013 after LePoint herself struggled with math as a young student, is intended to encourage students and help individuals overcome their fear of math and improve problem-solving abilities to gain access to math-related fields.
In offering advice to the next generation of scientists and mathematicians, LePoint suggests aspiring leaders in the field take a look at what she described as her favorite project: her Answers Unleashed book series. “Mathaphobia” is the first book in the series, followed by “Answers Unleashed: The Science of Unleashing Your Brain’s Power,” and “Answers Unleashed II: The Science of Attracting What You Want.”
“My true joy has been writing books to help people overcome their own fears so they can go into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, or become leaders in their everyday life,” LePoint explained. “I am a firm believer that we each have a beautiful future in front of us, and we get a chance to achieve it through our decisions.”
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