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December 19, 2019

A 'Hidden Figure' in modern times; NASA leader to keynote regional MLK Jr. event at SVSU

Saginaw Valley State University next month will welcome Ruth D. Jones, a leader with NASA and a trailblazer in her industry, to deliver the keynote address during the 11th annual Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the campus. 

Jones will appear Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

As the branch chief at the Industrial Safety Branch of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Jones oversees the safety and mission assurance functions at the U.S. government's Huntsville, Alabama-based civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research facility.

Jones became the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in physics from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1994. Six years later, she was the second African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics in the state of Alabama, graduating from Alabama A&M University.

In her career, Jones thrived in an industry where many of her peers were white and male. Now she travels the nation as a motivational speaker seeking to inspire others to pursue careers in STEM fields while serving as a role model for women and minorities.

“No matter what your color is, no matter what your gender is, what matters is what’s in your head,” she said during a 2017 interview.

Jones will serve as a Dow Visiting Scholar as well as a King-Chavez-Parks Scholar during her stay. Along with presenting as a keynote speaker, she will be involved in STEM-centric initiatives on and off campus. Jones plans to meet with participants in the SVSU Chief Science Officers program, a leadership development initiative aimed at empowering middle and high school students to serve as STEM education advocates in their home school districts.

She also plans to speak afterward with the audience attending a free SVSU showing of "Hidden Figures," the 2016 biographical drama about three African-American women who helped propel NASA during the "space race" of the 1960s. The public is invited to the movie presentation Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 5 p.m. in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The film is rated PG with a runtime of 127 minutes.

Jones joins a prestigious list of keynote speakers featured during the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Celebration at SVSU. Most recently, Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, served as the keynote in January 2019. In 2018, Karen Carter, the chief inclusion officer for The Dow Chemical Company, presented at the event. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was the 2017 keynote speaker.

In addition to Jones’ keynote address, the Jan. 22 program will include the presentation of regional scholarship awards by the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations to high school seniors who have embodied Martin Luther King Jr.'s ideals. Officials also will announce the winners of the Drum Major Awards, which recognizes people whose community involvement in the Great Lakes Bay Region serves to advance King's vision.

The event is sponsored in part by the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations; Delta College; Dow; the King-Chavez-Parks Initiative; local NAACP chapters; and Nexteer Automotive.

For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, go to