What is a hero? According to the Miriam Dictionary, a hero is “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities.” For me, it is the noble qualities—those qualities that make up the character of a person–that define the hero. So, while achievements are usually more widely recognized, it is the character of the person that impresses me. The noble qualities I look for in a hero are talent, determination, humility, generosity of spirit, and a sense of humor. Someone who possesses these noble qualities is sure to be my hero!
Let me give you an example. One of my heroes is Annie Easley. She not only has multiple achievements to her name but also has the noble qualities I admire. First, I love math and so does Annie Easley. If we have that in common, maybe we have other traits in common too.
Ms. Easley used her math talents throughout her life. First, she was a “human computer.” That’s right, she did complex calculations for scientists, just like a computer does today. When it became clear that human calculators would be replaced by machines, she took it upon herself to expand her studies. She became a computer programmer while working for NASA. Over the course of her career, she learned computing programming languages like FORTAN and SOAP. She worked on code that provided the foundation for the launches of the space shuttle and communications satellites. She also worked on energy-conservation programs, including the life storage of batteries and alternate systems to solve energy problems. Ms. Easley was curious, and this curiosity led her to noticing what needed to be done. She then used her talents to get it done.
This makes it all sound so easy, doesn’t it? Just use your talents and get the job done. But, Ms. Easley was an African American, who faced racial discrimination throughout her lifetime. She had to take a test and pay money just to vote. She had to pay for her own schooling, even though NASA paid tuition for others. To pay her tuition, Ms. Easley had to continue to work full time while she went to school part time. These examples show her determination to achieve her goals. She did not let others stand in her way, and I admire her for that. She once told an interviewer, “My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can’t work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be so discouraged that I’d walk away.” Without determination, Ms. Easley may not have accomplished all that she did.
Ms. Easley became a role model for others. She showed her generosity of spirit by actively participating in school mentoring and outreach programs. Through her speeches and presentations, she encouraged female and minority students to consider a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) career. While always working as a scientist, she also took on the role of an equal employment opportunity (EEO) counselor. In this role, she helped supervisors address issues such as gender, race, and age discrimination. All these activities took time, and she graciously gave her time and talents to these efforts. As Ms. Easley herself humbly observed, “I never set out to be a role model or a trailblazer;” but, as you can see, that is exactly what she became.
Finally, Ms. Easley had quite a sense of humor. For example, in high school, she thought about pursuing a career as a pharmacist. When asked why during an interview, she replied, “it may have something to do with going to the corner drugstore, where they had all of the candy and the ice cream.” Let’s face it. Who wouldn’t like a job that puts you near ice cream every day? Luckily, Ms. Easley decided to pursue her math talents at NASA, where her sense of humor, along with her talents and determination, helped her through tough times, such as discrimination, again and again.
Annie Easley has all the qualities of a hero. She has talent, determination, humility, generosity of spirit, and a sense of humor. Annie Easley inspires me not only to pursue my math abilities but also to be a good person. And that is why, Annie Easley is my hero!