my 3 high school math & science teachers
Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan--three of the aerospace professionals featured in the book (and film) Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly--were all public school teachers prior to working at NASA. Jackson taught at a school in Calvert County, Maryland. Johnson taught chemistry at a high school in Marion, Virginia. Vaughan taught at schools in Tamms, Illinois; coastal North Carolina; and Farmville, Virginia. Just as these three black women are inspiring a generation of future mathematicians, engineers and scientists, I was inspired by three public school teachers who taught me math and science in high school.
I attended H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, DC in the early 1980s. Completed in 1972 at the height of Black Power (red, black & green school colors and an African warrior with a spear and shield as “mascot”), Woodson was the “Tower of Power,” an eight-floor concrete marvel that stood as a beacon in the city's Deanwood neighborhood. Mrs. Estelle Feeling, Dr. Alice Rier, and Ms. Katie Walker were three of the school's math and science teachers. And they were all brilliant!
My Aunt Estelle, who I called Mrs. Feeling at school, taught me trigonometry and physics. Initially, it was a little weird having an aunt as a teacher but she was serious about her teaching and didn't play favorites. In fact, she was probably a little harder on me. She graduated as class valedictorian from Jackson High School in Camden, South Carolina in 1956. She attended Bennett College for one year and transferred to DC Teachers College, where she completed a B.S. degree in math. She received an M.S. degree in math at George Washington University and completed more than 60 hours of post-graduate work toward a Ph.D. in math. In 1985, she received a national Presidential Award for excellence in math teaching. In 1990, she received a Teacher of the Year Award at Woodson. She also hosted a cable television program teaching math to the general public and served on a team of American and British science educators who met in London to discuss ways of improving math and science education in both countries.
Dr. Alice Rier taught me advanced biology. She wore a lab coat emblazoned with her name and was always impeccably dressed in a suit and pumps. The classroom was always spotless and well-equipped with microscopes, beakers, hot plates, long trays for dissection, scalpels, and large tweezers. Dr. Rier co-coordinated the school's science fair and also the annual city-wide science fair that was held at Woodson. In addition to her commitment to academic excellence at Woodson, she also served as a mentor for the Department of Defense Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program for High School Students.
Ms. Walker, my homeroom teacher, was very strict and serious. She received a B.A. degree from Hunter College in New York and a M.S. Degree in Teaching from American University. I did independent study classes with her in science. She taught earth science, science and human values, and an advanced science seminar, which was adopted throughout the DC Public School system.
Although I ended up pursuing humanities and not math and science, I loved both subjects in high school. In my junior year, I received an Outstanding Junior Science Student award and won first place in Medicine & Health at Woodson's Science Fair. In my senior year, I received third place in Medicine & Health at Woodson's Science Fair, was a member of the science club and participated in the Washington Junior Academy of Sciences fair. I owe my love of and achievement in math and science to my aunt, Mrs. Feeling, Dr. Rier, and Ms. Walker.
Big thank you to Pat Smith and Pamela Gilliam-Thomas, Woodson alumni, for sharing their memories of Dr. Rier and Ms. Walker, respectively.
Another big thank you to Kimberly Springle, Executive Director, Sumner School Museum & Archives, for helping me find images and for her excellent stewardship of DCPS records.
Photo Source: H.D. Woodson Yearbook, 1981. Collection of Sumner School Museum & Archives, Washington, DC
Certificate Source: Collection of author