ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- As part of the Cleveland Cavaliers Black Heritage Celebration events during the month of February, Dr. Woodrow Whitlow Jr., technical director for the AEDC Test Operations and Sustainment contractor, was recognized during halftime of the team’s home game on Feb. 25 for being the first African-American director of Research and Technology at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC).
Serving as the Research and Technology director at GRC in Cleveland, Ohio, from September 1998 until September 2003, Whitlow commented on the significance of this particular achievement in his career.
“This was historic because NASA is one of the world’s premier organizations for conducting cutting-edge research and developing technologies for the benefit for all humankind,” he said. “My selection for this position was affirmation to America’s research community and to African-Americans that personal excellence in research and leadership abilities can result in the opportunity to lead a world-class research organization.
“It was also significant because Glenn is one of NASA’s research centers, and an African-American was selected to develop and lead the core research competencies that are essential to the health of the Center. The civil service staff included 470 engineers and scientists who had expertise in aeronautical propulsion, space propulsion, aerospace power, aerospace materials, communications technology and instrumentation.”
While rewarding, Whitlow mentioned the position was challenging at times.
“The most significant challenge I faced was hiring a diverse workforce with the specialized skills that were needed to help GRC meet its programmatic commitments and remain among the finest research institutions in the world.”
He began his professional career in 1979 as a research scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. In 1994, he served as Director of the Critical Technologies Division, Office of Aeronautics, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He assumed various positions of increasing responsibility before moving to the Glenn Research Center in 1998 as the Research and Technology director.
From September 2003 to December 2005, Dr. Whitlow served as the Deputy Director of the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center before becoming Center Director at GRC from December 2005 to March 2010. He then went on to hold the position of associate administrator for Mission Support at NASA Headquarters from April 2010 until his retirement from NASA in August 2013.
Whitlow earned his Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In addition to his contributions to aeronautics research, Whitlow said some of his fondest memories in his career are when he assisted with leading NASA space missions.
“After five years as the GRC Research and Technology Director and following the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven-person crew, I was assigned to the Kennedy Space Center as the Center Deputy Director,” he said. “I helped ensure American astronauts’ safe return to space by leading processing of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery and International Space Station payloads that culminated in the successful STS-114 Shuttle mission.
“I led the U.S. space community in defining the capabilities needed to fly the Space Shuttle safely through completion of International Space Station construction and the end of the Shuttle program.”
Now as an AEDC employee at Arnold Air Force Base, where developmental testing was conducted on components for both the Space Shuttle and ISS, and numbers of wind tunnel and impact range tests were conducted in support of the Shuttle’s return to service, Whitlow said he feels at home in his current role.
“While at NASA, I was very well aware of AEDC’s capabilities and the outstanding contributions that this workforce makes to our nation’s aerospace programs. AEDC has been a great partner over the years. I like to think of the aerospace industry as the crown jewels of the American economy, and AEDC is a big reason for that.”
Over the years Whitlow has received numerous awards, including Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive, Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive, NASA Distinguished Service Honor Medal, NASA Equal Opportunity Honor Medal, U.S. Black Engineer of the Year in Government, and the (British) Institution of Mechanical Engineers William Sweet Smith Prize. Cranfield University in the United Kingdom awarded Dr. Whitlow an honorary doctor of engineering degree in 2007. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics named him a fellow in 2010 and he currently serves on their Board of Trustees.
In all his success, he mentioned that it’s has been important to him to give back by supporting and inspiring youth to become interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.
“I am a member of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity and serve as a mentor to young African-American boys at Kenneth W. Clement Boys Leadership Academy in Cleveland; and as a HistoryMaker, I am one of the African-American role models who visit students at schools across the United States each year, as part of The HistoryMakers Back to School Day. This annual day of service brings African-American leaders from as many industries as possible to speak with middle and high school students about our lives and career paths.”
In addition to being a HistoryMaker, he has served as a member of the Friends of MC2STEM advisory board and assisted with fundraising, volunteerism, and recommendations for oversight of the delivery of a rigorous college preparatory program focused on STEM education for Northeast Ohio’s students.
Whitlow is also on the Board of Directors of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and chairs the Promise Neighborhood Advisory Committee. The Foundation works to improve the lives of those most in need, with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty.
He is also an advocate for children with disabilities. While on the Board of Directors of United Cerebral Palsy of Cleveland, Whitlow assisted in obtaining $50,000 for a High School/High-Tech Program that allowed children with disabilities to have internships and explore careers in science, mathematics, and technology.
Whitlow has coordinated with the National Technical Association to sponsor and chair a national science competition for minority students. He also serves as a mentor for students by providing them guidance on their decisions for higher education, how to prepare for and apply to higher-education institutions, how to obtain scholarships and financial aid, and how to advance in their professional careers.
At the college level, he collaborated with the Cleveland State University Dean of Engineering to implement strategies to increase the enrollment of students in the engineering disciplines and to raise their retention rates, as well as developed strategies to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups. He has also served as advisor for student engineering projects.
A video highlighting the achievements of Whitlow and the other honorees that was shown during the Cavs game Feb. 25 can be viewed here: http://www.nba.com/cavaliers/video/teams/cavaliers/2018/02/25/1949525/1519597638867-bhc-nasa-cavs-halftime-1949525.