Trimble scholarship honors ‘hidden figure’ Gladys West

November 10, 2021  - By

Trimble has established a scholarship program to honor Gladys West, a pioneer in mathematics, minority advancement and the advent of the Global Positioning System  — one of the most widely used innovations throughout the world.

Gladys West. (Photo: Trimble)

Gladys West. (Photo: Trimble)

Supported by the Trimble Foundation, a donor-advised fund, the Dr. West scholarship program will enable Virginia State University, North Carolina A&T State University and Florida International University to award a four-year scholarship to one student each year. These universities were carefully chosen to reflect Dr. West as a woman of color and science, and to align with two of the Trimble Foundation’s key support pillars:  female education and empowerment and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Known today as the hidden figure who helped invent GPS, West knew from a young age that education would be the key to moving forward from her family farm in rural Virginia. A scholarship recipient herself, she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics.

She was offered a position in 1956 with Virginia’s Naval Proving Ground — now called the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Hired as a mathematician, she was one of only four African American employees at the time and only the second woman of color.

With her intelligence and computational skills recognized, she quickly climbed the ranks and became project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project in the 1960s. Knowledge gained through that work enabled her to program an IBM computer to calculate an accurate geodetic Earth model — the detailed mathematical model of the shape of the Earth that is the essential building block for GPS.

That tenacity, talent and enterprising fortitude encapsulates the spirit of Trimble’s scholarship program designed to honor West’s contributions to science and the geospatial industry.

“It’s fitting to announce this special scholarship program following West’s 91st birthday,” said Rob Painter, Trimble CEO, “a woman who helped pave the path to GPS — the technology that was not only core for Trimble’s early business but provided the catalyst to create the geospatial industry. This path to innovation has given us the tools to not only navigate and model our world, but to transform work in our lives every day. Just as West viewed education as the pathway for the future, we are excited by the opportunity to support a new generation of stars to help them pursue their educational journey.”

“We must appreciate our past, learn in the present and prepare those behind us for the future,” West said. “We must encourage our youth to pursue a higher level education so that they will be equipped to change the world. We must be willing to use our talents and strengths to work for the betterment of the world.”

Virginia State University — West’s alma mater and a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) — will award the Dr. Gladys West “Constellation” Scholarship from Trimble to a student in the College of Engineering and Technology. The VSU scholarship is also being matched by an anonymous donor.

North Carolina A&T State University — a top-ranked public HBCU — will award the Dr. Gladys West HBCU Scholarship from Trimble to a student in the College of Engineering.

Florida International University — a minority-serving institution — will award the Dr. Gladys West Trimble Technology Lab Scholarship to a first-generation student in the College of Engineering & Computing. The scholarship is also being matched. FIU is the home to the recently established Trimble Technology Lab, which provides students hands-on access to Trimble technologies within the Moss Department of Construction Management.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.