Meet Dr. Gladys West

Dr. Gladys West is a mathematician who helped develop GPS.

Dr. Gladys West was born on October 27, 1930, in Sutherland, Virginia. When she was young, Gladys decided to focus on her studies. She hoped that if she worked hard, she could choose a job she loved. She knew she did not want to work in the fields all day. Gladys excelled in school. She graduated at the top of her high school class. In 1952 she graduated from Virginia State College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics.

Dr. West was hired at the Naval Proving Ground in 1956. She was one of four Black employees and only the second Black woman to work in military technology. She studied the earth’s surface through mathematics. She and her team worked on IBM stretch computers. The computers were the first of their kind and were the size of a refrigerator. Gladys learned how to write computer programs.

With GPS, people can travel from one location to another without getting lost.

One of the programs she wrote was used to create a model of the precise shape of the earth. This data was an important part of the development of GPS. Dr. West did not realize what an impact GPS would have on the world. In 2018, she was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame.

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Photo Credit: (t)Adrian Cadiz/DVIDS/Department of Defense, (b)pop_jop/Getty Images