NASA's First Woman in Mission Control

Helps Nova Scotia-based Project Launch


HALIFAX, N.S. - A new project lets female industry leaders give girls role models that resonate, and educate youth about powerful paths paved by female pioneers.

It's a long way from Halifax to Houston, but a shared belief in the power of role-model images let two women bridge the gap in support of The Great Women Portrait Project, launching this month - Women's History Month.  

After IT leaders in Atlanta and Denver helped refine the concept, Great Women Portrait Project creator Jo Napier, founder of Great Women Productions, sought out NASA’s first female Mission Control engineer, feminist icon Frances 'Poppy' Northcuttfor help promoting the project with female industry leaders.  Houston-based Northcutt - pictured in her NASA days, below - was a return-to-Earth specialist who calculated the trajectories that brought Apollo astronauts back from the moon.  

Napier had a very specific reason for asking Northcutt to contribute her voice to the portrait project: "It's designed to evolve as a digital constellation of women, in different locales... and its 'North Star' had to be someone who's both an icon and inspiring STEM pioneer - and a someone who knows, first-hand, the power of women acting collectively."

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Engineer and activist Northcutt, who became the women's advocate for the city of Houston, and went on to become a criminal defense lawyer, agreed to shoot a video for use in Napier's meetings introducing female leaders to the project. 

In her video, Northcutt reflects on the power of "one image" to inspire: the former rocket scientist shares how, three years earlier, Rosaly Lopes - the planetary scientist who holds the world's record for discovering active volcanoes - reached out to thank Northcutt for inspiring her, professionally.  

Lopes explained to Northcutt that, as a 13-year old girl in Rio de Janiero, she saw a picture of Northcutt in the Mission Control centre during the Apollo program; that image changed the Brazilian girl's concept of what life could hold for her.

"We have a planetary scientist, just because she saw... one image," said Northcutt, in her video. "Imagine how many other Rosalys are out there..."  



Portrait Art: A New Tool for Diversity Leaders

When a female leader commissions a Great Woman portrait by Napier, it triggers creation of a "virtual portrait" for youth organizations, a video that captures the face and story of female pioneers and depicts original, commissioned portrait art.  

Napier's Project gives female business and industry leaders "both a new diversity and inclusion toolthat advocates, educates and "impacts office culture, every day" - plus a way to shape the next generation's awareness and appreciation of pioneering women's "hidden" contributions.

"All of us - men and women, boys and girls - we really don't know women's accomplishments in fields like  IT, engineering and science simple because men have been our record keepers. That's the way it was. Now's the perfect time to use that commission as an opportunity: expand our roster of D&I tools; use art - and the collective power of women today - to reveal and reflect the hidden half of history, the female face of innovation, to this generation and the next."

Napier said she was motivated to create the project by a simgle, simple realization: "we can't afford not to have all our talent at the table problem solving, and innovating."

Deepening our understanding of what 'women's work' really means helps close gaps in our collective consciousness.

- which in turn, help close other gender gaps, said the project creator. "Using art to close gender gaps - starting with the gap in our understanding the value and impact of women's work in fields like STEM -  is a powerful thing female leaders can do. And they can use art as a tool to do it."

Portraits of role models are a powerful gift to give, especially to girl, she said. "A portrait plants a seed that can change a mindset. That's what art does best: it can change your mind." 

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Image above:  Halifax and Citadel Hill.  
Image in background and below: Poppy Northcutt in NASA Mission Control room.
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MDW Law, are the first female leaders invited to participate in The Great Women Portrait Project.  MDW Law commissioned for their new Halifax offices a large-scale portrait of Frances Fish, first woman to graduate from Dalhousie Law School. 

"The support of, and partnership, with Jo’s portrait project was a natural fit for us," said MDW partner Tara Miller. "We were pleased to sponsor Frances Fish for our new home, to ensure awareness of her legacy and the path she charted for women in the law.”  MDW has chosen 'Hope Blooms' as the youth organization they wish to learn more about great women pioneers.


Image below, MDW law partners, from left:

Angela Walker, K.C., Tara Miller  K.C., Laura Kanaan  and   Christine Doucet 

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Project Aims At Helping Pipeline Problem


STEM has an image problem, a "pipeline" problem and a culture problem because science, tech, engineering, math are - and are seen as -male-dominated domains, but "female pioneers have paved powerful paths in all these fields," said Napier.  

"Girls will feel differently about STEM studies and careers if they knew the hidden half - the female half - of history... They'd have a sense of ownership, feel more empowered to push for inclusion and equality."

 If "girls could look up at the stars and know Cecilia Payne discovered what stars are made of, or that Marie Tharp mapped the ocean floor, it would change how they see the world - and their understanding of how 'women's work' has helped shape our world... Most of us don't know Trudy Elion changed the way drugs are developed, discovered the treatment for childhood leukemia, paved the research path to AZT. Or that chemist Dorothy Hodgkin's discoveries made mass production of antibiotics possible."

The goal of The Great Women Portrait Project, she said, is to build a network of successful women who will use their office and boardroom walls, and local youth organizations, to reveal "the female face of innovation" to girls,  and educate youth about the impact female pioneers have had on the world. "When a girl closes her eyes to imagine an astrophysicist or pioneer or scientific innovator, I want her to see female face."



Images below, from left, drug pioneers

Dorothy Hodgkins, Gertrude 'Trudy' Elion, and Alice Augusta Ball 

For more information about: The Great Women Portrait Project , and how it works. (CLICK HERE)
To view a gallery of Great Women: CLICK HERE