By Micha Green , AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, mgreen@afro.com

As commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 took place all last week, a barrier-breaking hometown hero with beauty, brains and #BlackGirlMagic was also celebrated, receiving a major shout-out from former President Barack Obama.

D.M.V. native Tiffany Davis is an aerospace engineer. Even with books and movies like Hidden Figures, which shared the untold stories of Black women who contributed to NASA, African American women remain rare sightings in the world of rocket science- yet Davis is breaking barriers and defying norms.  Further, by showing the world that she exists, Davis is encouraging other young women of color to pursue careers in STEM.

Temple Hills native and aerospace engineer Tiffany Davis, 25, was celebrated by former President Barack Obama during last week’s commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. (Courtesy Photo)

“It is important to me to make the world aware that Black rocket scientists exist because there are not many of us. When I go to work, I am the only one that looks like me and most of the time that is very discouraging,” Davis, 25 told the AFRO in an exclusive interview.

“I want more women and minorities to join this field, so my hopes are that sharing my story will make it easier for people that look like me in the future, so that they can do it too,” the 25-year-old said.

Being the only one who looked like her never stopped the young rocket scientist from pursuing her dreams.  The Temple Hills native told the AFRO her interest in STEM began at an early age. 

“For my entire life, I’ve always been obsessed with learning how things work.  When I was young, I used to beg my parents to take me to radio shack so I could build my own gadgets.  I also had a strong interest in astronomy or the study of the skies. So one day in high school, it just all made sense to me to put the two together and I decided on aerospace engineering.”

Since 2014, while still an aerospace engineering major at Georgia Institute of Technology, Davis worked as part of Boeing’s Engineering Accelerated Hiring Initiative, according to a 2016 Grapevine article.  Davis’ internship at Boeing led to a fulltime position post graduation, and she has continued to make strides in her career and field since. 

Yet even before graduating from Georgia Tech, Davis’ hard work was already garnering recognition.

In 2016, when Davis graduated from Georgia Tech, she showed the world what a rocket scientist looks like by posting a senior photo on Instagram of her with the hashtag #YesIAmARocketScientist, which went viral- breaking the Internet and breaking barriers all at once.

In addition to her viral Instagram post, Davis caught the attention of Obama during his presidency, when she wrote a letter about the student debt crisis.  To her surprise, not only did Obama read her letter and respond, but she was able to introduce the former president to her entire campus when he came to Georgia Tech to speak on college affordability in March 2015.

Fast-forwarding four years later, Davis is fulltime at Boeing and pursuing a master’s degree, and as she continues to make strides in her career, she remains on Obama’s radar.

Last week, the NPR show On Second Thought released an interview with host Virginia Prescott talking to Davis about her career and what it takes to thrive as a rocket scientist. Obama saw that interview and, as part of Apollo 11 celebrations, re-tweeted the online link for others to take a listen, but also in order to recognize the current strides happening in rocket science.

“In America, we don’t fear the future, we embrace it. 50 years ago, that spirit took us to the moon. Today, it’s embodied by people like Tiffany Davis,” Obama tweeted. “She’s a young rocket scientist who is helping us explore the next frontier, wherever that might take us.”

Davis told the AFRO she’s blown away having been recognized again by the “Best President,” in current American’s lifetime according to Pew Research Center.

“To be acknowledged by someone that has done so much for our country and my community means the world to me,” Davis said. “This is especially influential to my life, because I know how much Obama advocates for minorities and women in STEM.  His encouraging words make me want to go that much harder in my life.”

Paying it forward, Davis has advice for young women who hope to pursue careers in rocket science.

“Being a woman and/or minority in this field is challenging.  You will be constantly tested and made to feel like you don’t belong.  You cannot give into those external pressures. You cannot let other people define your purpose or your worth,” she said. “My advice would be to know that you have the same right to be in that field as everyone else.  No one can take your talents away, no matter what they say or think of you. So just believe in yourself and let your gifts shine,” Davis added.

Davis’ goals and perseverance keep her going as she continues the necessary rocket scientist grind.

“I hope to continue to break down societal barriers for women and minorities in this field,” she told the AFRO.  “I plan on doing that by continuing my non-profit work of my mentorship program and speaking engagements. In my professional field, I hope to continue to produce technical innovations in the field of aerospace-specifically in human space exploration.  I set no limits for myself. I would even love to walk on the surface of Mars one day.”