College of Our Lady of the Elms has announced that its convocation speaker this year will be NASA engineer Shelia Nash-Stevenson, Ph.D., who followed her childhood love of math into the field of physics and became the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree in physics in the state of Alabama.

The opening convocation ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, in Veritas Auditorium.

“Opening academic convocation — in addition to being a time to welcome new students, wish seniors the best in their last year, and celebrate academic achievement — is a good time to reflect on the promise and potential of the coming year, and a reminder to all to take advantage of opportunities as they arise,” said Walter C. Breau, Ph.D., vice president of academic affairs at Elms College. “Dr. Nash-Stevenson’s life story exemplifies the possibilities of education, coupled with perseverance, passion and motivation.”

“At Elms College, our mission drives us forward, and Dr. Nash-Stevenson’s story is a powerful reminder to each of us of the role we play in carrying out that mission,” said Joyce Hampton, Ed.D., dean for student success and strategic initiatives.

Nash-Stevenson, a three-time magna cum laude graduate of Alabama A&M University, received a bachelor of science degree in electrical/electronic engineering technology in 1981, an M.S. degree in physics in 1984 (the first granted in Alabama A&M history), and her Ph.D. in physics in 1994.

She is a charter member of both the City of Madison Board of Education, the Madison Rotary Club, Leadership Alabama, Leadership Huntsville/Madison County Alumni Association, National Technical Association, Alabama A&M University Alumni Association, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

Today, Nash-Stevenson works as an integration engineer for the Planetary Programs Missions Office at NASA, making sure exploratory missions meet their goals.

She previously worked as a physicist for the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Defense Systems Command, as a scientist for Nichols Research Corporation, as a member of the technical staff for Hughes Aircraft Company and Huntsville Engineering Center, and as an adjunct professor at Alabama A&M University. She has co-authored several papers on laser upconversion and holds a patent for an optical fiber holder.

“Dr. Nash-Stevenson’s accomplishments are compelling on an educational and personal level,” Breau said. “She is a wonderful role model for women, in particular African-American women, who are considering their future education and career options, and asking themselves, ‘Can I do it?’ She is also a role model for us all, reminding us of the importance of always taking the time to help others.”

“Corey Booker writes, in our 2017 Common Read, United, that others have created opportunities for him to advance change and seek the common good. Dr. Nash-Stevenson is committed to doing the same for others. It is a privilege to have such an accomplished individual join us for our opening convocation,” Hampton said.

“Dr. Nash-Stevenson is such a powerful example of one who lives out the call to participation in society to build the common good,” she added. “She believes in the power of mentors to create a society where others can grow and develop to their full potential.”

In January, NASA selected Nash-Stevenson to represent the agency as a “modern figure” at the New York premiere of the film Hidden Figures, based on the true story of African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Elms College is screening the film for students on campus in preparation for Nash-Stevenson’s visit.

Photo credit: Shelia Nash-Stevenson, Ph.D., will deliver the address at Elms College’s opening convocation ceremony on Sept. 27. Photo by Suzie McGehee / Love it Out Photography; used with permission of the WEDC Foundation of Huntsville, Ala., who will honor Nash-Stevenson in its 16th annual Women Honoring Women event this month.