Former astronaut and Lowe’s Companies Inc. executive Joan Higginbotham will deliver the keynote address at North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) 129th Commencement Exercise on Saturday, May 13. Commencement will take place at 9 a.m. at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium on the NCCU campus.
Higginbotham will speak to approximately 762 students receiving their bachelor’s degrees from the university. According to estimates from the NCCU Registrar’s Office, the class of 2017 will be one of the largest graduating classes in the university’s history. In May 2016, NCCU awarded 718 bachelor’s degrees.
Higginbotham began her career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a payload electrical engineer in the Kennedy Space Center’s Electrical and Telecommunications Systems Division and later became an astronaut at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
Higginbotham is one of three African-American women to travel into outer space. In 2006, she completed NASA’s space shuttle discovery mission STS-116 serving as mission specialist during the 12-day excursion. During her time with NASA, she completed three additional missions.
After her successful stint with NASA, Higginbotham served in an executive role with Marathon Oil Company. Currently, she serves on the NCCU Board of Trustees, an appointment she has held since 2013.
Higginbotham is employed as director of Global Sourcing for Lowe’s Companies Inc., where she leads global-sourcing opportunities in key emerging countries, oversees cross-functional initiatives for global sourcing, and manages custom broker efforts to ensure federal compliance.
Higginbotham obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She also earned master’s degrees in management and space systems from the Florida Institute of Technology. She also was awarded an honorary doctorate in aerospace science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Her numerous honors include the NASA Space Medal, St. Augustine University’s Heritage Award, Distinguished Alumni awards from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Savoy Magazine’s 2012 Top Influential Women in Corporate America. Higginbotham has won numerous award citations, including induction into the National Association of Negro Business and the Professional Women’s History Hall of Fame.
In 2007, former U.S. President George W. Bush honored Higginbotham at the 81st Annual White House Black History Month Celebration.
She is active in a number of civic and service organizations, including: the Association of Space Explorers, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., The Links Incorporated, the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission and Johnson C. Smith University Board of Visitors and Science Center Advisory Board.
A separate ceremony for graduate and professional students will take place Friday, May 12 at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.