The movie Hidden Figures about African American women working in the space program in the ‘60s kicked off in January with a proverbial loud bang as it emerged and shed some powerful much needed light. The film drew audiences in with some of the most talented actresses to ever grace a silver screen. It is the story of ‘human computer’ Katherine Johnson and other women of color who helped launch the first Americans into space. One modern successor at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center carries on the agency’s mission as she inspires new generations of women to do the same.
Dr. Virginia Cook Tickles is currently serving our nation as a ‘cost analysis engineer’ in the Office of Strategic Analysis and Communications’ Engineering Cost Office at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She began her work with NASA at Marshall in 1989. She performed various types of engineering analysis and trade studies in the areas of propulsion systems, engine systems, space transportation systems, and operations before moving into the Engineering Cost Office.
Dr. Cook carries the torch lit by Johnson and her barrier-shattering colleagues. The Nashville movie showing, which included her and other ‘real life’ trailblazing women, was a crucial part of a local initiative that invited over 100 area Nashville girls. The underprivileged girls filled the movie theater and were captivated by the presentations, sweet snacks, and special National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grab bags.
This wasn’t the first time in Nashville for Dr. Cook by any means. She has strong Tennessee State University teaching ties among her other numerous accolades. She has also taught both middle school and high school.
Dr. Cook successfully won a NASA fellowship in 2008 to teach students the importance of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) at Tennessee State and Jackson State Universities.
“One of the things I’ve found about the STEM field is that the arts provide an extra element of energy and interest that keeps students from getting overwhelmed by technical complexity. One of my workshops addressed their difficulty with technical terminology,” said Cook.
Dr. Cook has also used rap music to help students learn and to retain technical terminology, taking her amazing work to new, enlightened levels by any means necessary—empowering our youth one student at a time.
Much of Dr. Cook’s current work outside of NASA centers on mentoring.
“I presented four women at the University of West Alabama who were training to be STEM teachers. I used the concept of flowers to describe how what they bring to the classroom makes the entire environment more beautiful. She spoke about different characteristics of roses, tulips, and sunflowers and other flowers and how they relate to individuals in a class, both in personality and on a scientific level. The result was an image of a beautiful flower garden. This helped inspire them to go out and teach others and to learn in their specific fields,” said Cook.
Dr. Tickles is a part of a special development of a music-and-sound-based curriculum, giving students materials to create drums—tying that into as many science and math concepts as possible and culminating in a performance.
“In the midst of that, I want to teach the cultural history of drums, making it as multidisciplinary as we can,” she said. “It’s a valuable piece that is in the works.”
A proud native of New Orleans, Louisiana and a mother of six, she has a keen interest in supporting women in STEM initiatives. She is published in the area of mentoring women in STEM. She received a B.S. in mechanical engineering (Tuskegee University), an M.S. in systems engineering management (Florida Institute of Technology), and a Ph.D. in ‘urban higher education’ (Jackson State University).
Dr. Cook taught an ‘Introduction to Engineering’ course to middle and high school students in Huntsville, Ala., and is the chair of the STEM Committee of the Sisters of the Academy (SOTA) Institute, an organization committed to the educational success of Black Women in the Academy. Along with holding other progressive and inspiring memberships, she is an esteemed member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Dr. Cook and her NASA colleagues continue to brainstorm, collaborate, and inspire others. Her six beautiful children have already placed their feet firmly on life’s ground, receiving college degrees. She resides in Huntsville, Alabama and is often accessible to students and serious inquiring programs and minds. For further information, visit .