How persistance led “human computer” to become international expert

November 3, 2017

When “Hidden Figures” rocketed onto the literary and cinematic scene, the story shown a light on the often overlooked work of African-American women at a key time in our nation’s history. What you may not know is that one of those “human computers” highlighted in Margot Lee Shatterly’s best-selling book has ties to Asheville. Dr. Christine Darden, retired NASA engineer, graduated as valedictorian from the Allen High School in Asheville in 1958.

We are thrilled to have Dr. Darden as a guest speaker at the 2nd annual WomanUP Celebration on Nov. 28th. The event will also feature keynote speaker local entrepreneur Troylyn Ball of Asheville Distilling Company and present our outstanding women in business awards to three local women.

In an interview with Dr. Darin Waters of UNC Asheville during the WomanUP Celebration, Dr. Darden will share her story and the career formula that she says pushed her to succeed.

Her story is sure to be inspiring for women of all ages and careers.

The youngest of five children, Darden came from her hometown of Monroe, NC. to Asheville’s Allen High School, a United Methodist boarding school for African-American girls.

Darden credits her Allen School experiences and teachers there for sparking her interest in math and for helping her develop strong work ethic and good study habits that benefited her in college and throughout her professional life.

After earning mathematics degrees from Hampton Institute and Virginia State College, Darden landed a job as a “human computer” at NASA Langley. With persistence, Darden overcame gender obstacles to pursue opportunities as an engineer.

Through her 40-year career at NASA, Darden became one of the world’s experts in high-speed aerodynamics and sonic boom research. She retired as a member of The Senior Executive Service in March 2007 from NASA Langley Research Center.

Darden has been recognized with dozens of awards and honors—including two NASA Medals, one for her work and leadership of the Sonic Boom Program, and the other for her active involvement in working with and encouraging students to pursue careers in Math and Science.  In addition, she received the Black Engineer of the Year Outstanding Achievement in Government Award and the Women in Science & Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Darden and her husband of 53 years, Walter, are the parents of 3 adult daughters, 5 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.
Read NASA profile of Christine Darden