Limestone University WITS Conference To Welcome Retired Astronaut Joan Higginbotham On March 23 & 24

Charles Wyatt
Joan Higginbotham

Limestone University will host a pair of Women in Technology & Sciences (WITS) Conferences on Thursday, March 23, and Friday, March 24, from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. each day.

The keynote speaker at each day’s luncheon will be aerospace consultant Joan Higginbotham. A retired NASA astronaut, Higginbotham is a trailblazing electrical engineer, who in December 2006, flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery to become the third African American woman to travel into space. On the nearly 13-day mission, the seven-member crew continued construction of the International Space Station, embarking on four space walks with Higginbotham operating the station’s robotic arm.

Higginbotham utilizes the International Space Station as the backdrop for sharing insights and lessons learned during her 20-year distinguished career with NASA. During her speaking engagements, she highlights the keys to succeeding in her missions – including seizing opportunities, being prepared, perseverance, working with diverse teams, and thriving in demanding, high-stakes environments – as well as how those tactics can be applied to any endeavor.

A real-life rocket scientist, Higginbotham began her career at NASA in 1987 as an aerospace technologist at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where she worked her way through numerous promotions and actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her nine-year tenure. Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996, she reported to the Johnson Space Center and was assigned various technical duties including testing modules of the ISS for operability, compatibility, and functionality prior to launch.

Higginbotham logged more than 308 hours in space, retiring from NASA in 2007 and then joining Marathon Oil to manage its corporate social responsibility office and the Bioko Island Malaria Control Program in Equatorial Guinea, Africa.

She had a storied career, serving as director of open innovation at Collins Aerospace, sourcing cutting-edge technologies to close current technology gaps and meet future technology needs. Prior to that role, Higginbotham managed the relationships with governmental agencies and public and private companies involved in human space exploration and served as director of corporate social responsibility. Preceding her time at Collins Aerospace, she held multiple director positions at Lowe’s Companies, Inc., leading its community relations, supplier diversity, and global sourcing efforts.

After 35 years of experience across the U.S. Government and several Fortune 500 companies, Higginbotham stepped out on faith and opened her aerospace consulting firm, Joan Higginbotham Ad Astra LLC, where she serves as President and CEO

Widely recognized for her accomplishments, Higginbotham was honored by President George W. Bush at the 81st White House Black History Month Celebration, was featured in Alicia Keys’ Superwoman video, is the recipient of the National Space Medal, the Adler Planetarium Women in Space Award, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and was named one of “Savoy” magazine’s Top Influential Women in Corporate America, and was named one of “Essence” magazine’s Top 50 Women, among other accolades.

Born in Chicago, Higginbotham received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, a Master of Science Degree in Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, a Master of Science Degree in Space Systems from the Florida Institute of Technology, an Honorary Doctorate in Aerospace Science from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from the University of New Orleans.

At the upcoming WITS Conferences, approximately 200 sophomores and juniors from high schools in the surrounding area will take part in the face-to-face conferences on the Limestone campus that will feature a variety of engaging lessons and hands on workshops ranging from engineering design challenges to the mathematics of secret keeping.

Students have the option to attend the conference on either March 23 or March 24.

Each day, students will be able to engage with women already in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) profession, as well as Limestone’s female students and faculty, to get a sense of the opportunities that are available in those fields.

The WITS conference has received continued support from Duke Energy, including for this year’s event. Duke Energy’s support has been instrumental to the success of the conference in bringing female students and the STEM profession closer together. Broad River Electric Cooperative has also been a conference sponsor in the past.