A crowd of faculty, staff, alumni and friends gathered at GT-AE January 11 to pay homage and bid good-bye to longtime Georgia Space Grant Consortium (GSGC) program manager Wanda Pierson.
Pierson officially ended her 26-year tenure at Georgia Tech on December 31, while the campus was empty. But her colleagues were not about to let her leave so anonymously. The standing-room only crowd at her tribute included two former Space Grant directors, several former students, and countless friends -- all of whom had something to say.
"The Georgia Space Grant Consortium would not be nearly as successful if Wanda had not been here, behind the scenes, making things happen," said Professor Stephen Ruffin, the current GSGC director. "It's hard to imagine our work without her. She will be sorely missed."
Joining Ruffin were former Space Grant directors Dr. David Peters, and Dr. Erian Armanios, both of whom flew to Atlanta solely to wish Pierson well.
"We had narrowed it down to two candidates when Wanda walked in for her interview," said Peters, now the McDonnell Douglas Professor of Engineering at Washington University. "But the minute I saw Wanda, I knew we had the right person."
Those sentiments were echoed by Dr.Carmen Sidbury, Spelman College's associate provost for research, who met Pierson when she was a student at Tech.
"She was there for students in ways that counted," Sidbury remarked.
"She was committed to helping us get over the rough spots so we would succeed. Now, the best way for us to thank her is to do the same."
Pierson remained composed but was clearly moved by the presence of so many admirers. Dabbing tears away from the corners of her eyes, she greeted each person as though they were the most important person in the room.
"I can't believe you are here," she said to Roland Barnes, a former Space Grant student who graduated from Georgia Tech and is now an engineering manager at Pratt & Whitney. "It is sooo good to see you."
NASA's Space Grant Consortium seeks to expand opportunities for up and coming students to understand and participate in NASA's aeronautics and space projects by supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research and public outreach efforts.
Officially established in 1990, the Georgia chapter of NASA's National Space Grant consortium originally consisted of just four other colleges/universities. It has since grown to include 17 colleges, two non-profit organizations, and two industrial affiliates. Throughout that time, it has had three directors, but only one program manager: Wanda Pierson.
"No less than any of our faculty, Wanda has devoted herself to the success of aerospace engineering - as an interest, a major, and a career," said GT-AE school chair Vigor Yang. "Our gratitude is limitless."
The Georgia Space Grant Consortium has programs in five key areas
- K-12STEM education - Enhancing teacher training, and direct student programs;
- Working with Informal Education Providers (Science Centers, museums, after school programs, etc.);
- Higher Education - Providing internships and authentic technical experiences for College students;
- Faculty Research - Developing or collaborating on cutting edge scientific and engineering research with private industry, academic institutions, the military, and other government agencies;
- Fellowships - providing funding for students to pursue degrees in STEM.