Scholarship Program to Honor Technology Pioneer and Hidden Figure Who Helped Invent GPS.
Trimble announced a scholarship program to honor Dr. Gladys West, a pioneer in mathematics, minority advancement and the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS)—one of our most widely used innovations throughout the world.
Known today as the hidden figure who helped invent GPS, Dr. West is one of the reasons why consumers can receive driving directions from a phone or tag a photo location on social media. And why professionals in industrial markets such as construction, transportation and agriculture can leverage geospatial technology to realize significant improvements in productivity, quality, safety, transparency and sustainability to transform the way they work with precision.
Dr. West knew from a young age that education would be the key to moving forward from her family farm in rural Virginia. A scholarship recipient herself, Dr. West earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Mathematics and was offered a position in 1956 with Virginia’s Naval Proving Ground—now called the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Hired as a mathematician, she was one of only four African American employees at the time and only the second woman of color.
With her intelligence and computational skills recognized, she quickly climbed the ranks and became project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project in the 1960s. Knowledge gained through that work enabled her to program an IBM computer to calculate an accurate geodetic Earth model—the detailed mathematical model of the shape of the Earth that is the essential building block for GPS.
That tenacity, talent and enterprising fortitude encapsulates the spirit of Trimble’s scholarship program designed to honor Dr. West’s contributions to science and the geospatial industry.
“It’s fitting to announce this special scholarship program following Dr. West’s 91st birthday. A woman who helped pave the path to GPS—the technology that was not only core for Trimble’s early business but provided the catalyst to create the geospatial industry. This path to innovation has given us the tools to not only navigate and model our world but to transform work in our lives every day,” said Rob Painter, Trimble CEO. “Just as Dr. West viewed education as the pathway for the future, we are excited by the opportunity to support a new generation of stars to help them pursue their educational journey.”
“We must appreciate our past, learn in the present and prepare those behind us for the future. We must encourage our youth to pursue a higher-level education so that they will be equipped to change the world. We must be willing to use our talents and strengths to work for the betterment of the world,” said Dr. West.
Supported by the Trimble Foundation, a donor-advised fund, the Dr. West scholarship program will enable Virginia State University, North Carolina A&T State University and Florida International University to award a 4-year scholarship to one student each year. These universities were carefully chosen to reflect Dr. West as a woman of color and science, and to align with two of the Trimble Foundation’s key support pillars: female education and empowerment and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Virginia State University—Dr. West’s alma mater and a Historically Black College and University (HBCU)—will award the Dr. Gladys West “Constellation” Scholarship from Trimble to a student in the College of Engineering and Technology. In addition, the VSU scholarship is also being matched by an anonymous donor. North Carolina A&T State University—a top-ranked public HBCU—will award the Dr. Gladys West HBCU Scholarship from Trimble to a student in the College of Engineering. And Florida International University—a minority serving institution—will award the Dr. Gladys West Trimble Technology Lab Scholarship to a first generation student in the College of Engineering & Computing. The scholarship is also being matched. FIU is the home to a recently established Trimble Technology Lab, which provides students hands-on access to Trimble technologies within the Moss Department of Construction Management.
About Dr. Gladys West
Dr. Gladys Mae West (born on Oct. 27, 1930) is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into GPS. She was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018. As an alumna of Virginia State University, Dr. West was nominated and won the award for “Female Alumna of the Year” at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Awards sponsored by HBCU Digest in 2018. Dr. West was also selected by the BBC as part of their 100 Women of 2018. In 2021, she was awarded the Prince Philip Medal by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, their highest individual honor.
Dr. West graduated from her high school as valedictorian in 1948, which helped her secure a scholarship to study at Virginia State University, where she was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, Dr. West taught science and math in Waverly, Virginia for two years before returning to VSU for her Master’s degree in Mathematics, which she received in 1955. Dr. West retired in 1998 and suffered a stroke only five months later. Determined to obtain a PhD, she worked on rebuilding her strength and recovering her lost mobility; and in 2018 she received a PhD in Public Administration from Virginia Tech.