Celebrated NASA pioneer and internationally-known researcher Dr. Christine Mann Darden encouraged Muskingum University’s Class of 2018 to adopt a formula that helped her break new scientific ground and ultimately become the first African-American woman promoted into the Senior Executive Service at NASA Langley Research Center.
She called it P4 — perceive, plan, prepare, and persist.
“I believe that in college and beyond, P4 pushed me to take initiatives, solve problems, take risks, and persist — steps that I may not have taken otherwise — to arrive at a career I loved,” she said.
Darden, whose 40-year career was amongst those highlighted in The New York Times bestselling book “Hidden Figures,” was the University’s principal speaker for its 173rd Commencement on Saturday, May 5, where nearly 350 students crossed the stage to receive bachelor of arts, bachelor of science and bachelor of science in nursing degrees. Darden received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in recognition of her achievements.
After earning her master’s degree in applied mathematics, Darden was hired as a Data Analyst in the Computer Office of NASA’s Re-Entry Physics Branch, where engineers would bring equations for solutions — the same kind of equations that Darden routinely completed during her master’s program.
“Then I found out that several of the engineers in the branch had math degrees,” she said. “So I began to ask about being transferred to engineering.”
After her supervisor denied the transfer, she took her request to a senior-level director; a move she said she knew was a risk, but one she was willing to take. Why, she recalled asking, were men and women with identical backgrounds placed in such different jobs? Two weeks later, she was promoted and transferred to an engineering section.
“I spent the next 28 years working on, and leading research on, ways to reduce the loudness of the sonic boom,” she said. “Passion drives success, and you, this year’s graduates from Muskingum University, have an amazing opportunity to take your own passions and make your impact on the world.”
During her NASA career, Dr. Darden continued her education, earning a Doctor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and completing advanced studies in management. She became Director of the Office of Strategic Communications and Education, retiring from NASA in 2007 as a member of its Senior Executive Service. She authored nearly 60 technical papers, primarily in the areas of sonic boom prediction, sonic boom minimization and supersonic wing design, and delivered technical presentations in Germany, England, France, Greece and Japan.
In her address to students, Muskingum University President Susan S. Hasseler congratulated graduates for their hard work, determination and pursuit of excellence.
“You will always be a part of the Muskingum community now in your new role as Muskingum alumni,” President Hasseler said. “I have no doubt that you will continue to transform the world, as you begin this new chapter in your lives. For 173 years, Muskies have followed their calling to engage with others and have an impact on the world — and you have already begun to extend that excellent tradition.”
“As we graduate from Muskingum today, appreciate the time we spent here and how we overcame many challenges,” said Senior Class President Patrick Mullen. “Remember the people who shaped you to be the person you are today, and show the world what it means to be educated as whole person for the whole world.”
To watch Muskingum’s 2018 commencement ceremony in full, including Dr. Darden’s address to the graduating class, visit muskingum.edu/Live