Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An Archival Experience

*This blog post was written by Salem Academy student Alexaya McKelvey who spent her January Term working on a project at the University Libraries at UNCG.

For my January Term at Salem Academy, I chose to work with the Special Collections and University Archives and Digital Projects departments within the University Libraries at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). I was required to work for three weeks with six hours per day recorded. I was nervous to find an internship completely independent of my school. Was it going to spark my interest? Would it make me discover a calling I would have never considered before? Would the staff welcome a lowly intern that would only be temporarily remaining in their care? Luckily, the answer to all of these raging questions was yes. When I walked into the doors of the Special Collections and University Archives department, I knew I was where I was meant to be. I was greeted with open arms, bright minds, and thankful hands.

 First meeting with the UNCG librarians, Kathelene Smith and David Gwynn
Growing up in Greensboro, I thought I knew a lot about UNCG. I was in constant attendance on Tate Street. Friends and co-workers had become strong and proud Spartans and continue to do so. Walking into the archives, I thought I was coming in with an advantage. However, I was largely mistaken! Upon further research, I learned many things I had never known. In 1892, the State Normal and Industrial School, now UNCG, was open only to women. The school held amazing pageants and festivals and gave students the opportunity to learn about the subjects women had been denied for centuries. Literary societies maintained a strong hold over the social structure of the students’ lives.

Entering metadata for archival images
I learned all of this by researching the history of the school and by participating in various projects. I helped digitize a group of artifacts, ranging from 1876 to 2001, that are related to school literary societies and special occasions on the campus of UNCG. This included photographing pins, necklaces, badges, medals, letters, and even the famous May Day tiara. After taking the photos of the objects, they were uploaded to a hard drive where I organized them into folders with their corresponding identification numbers. I got to work with the Kathelene Smith, the Instruction and Outreach Archivist and David Gwynn, the head of the Digital Projects Department.

Literary Society pin worn by early UNCG student
Though this project was completely out of my comfort zone, I have loved getting to work in the archives and delving into the mysterious and beautiful history of one of Greensboro's oldest women’s colleges. From these discoveries, I have been able to compare them to my own experiences attending a strictly female school. I am so thankful for this opportunity to learn about an essential aspect of a library. I cannot wait to further pursue digital archiving in my upcoming college career!

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Connection between Hidden Figures and UNCG

If you're going to see the new movie Hidden Figures, you might not realize the connection between the "human computers" in that movie and UNCG. The film focuses on three African American women who worked as "human computers" during the 1950s and 1960s. But one of the very first human computers hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, precursor to NASA) was alumna Virginia Tucker (class of 1930). Tucker earned a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in education from the institution that was then known as North Carolina College for Women. After four years of teaching, she took the Civil Service exam and earned an appointment at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now Langley Research Center) in Virginia.

Tucker was one of five women who began work in September 1935 as Langley's first "Computer Pool." NACA did not have modern electrical computers, but instead relied on the work of "human computers," a pool of female mathematicians. These women were tasked with processing the huge amounts of data coming in from wind tunnel and flight tests. Using slide rules, charts, and her deep mathematical knowledge, Tucker and the other "human computers" performed intricate calculations that enabled NACA engineers to design and perfect airplanes. By 1946, Tucker had advanced to the position of Overall Supervisor for Computing at Langley, and she was tasked with managing a department of over 400 women in computing sections across the laboratory facility.

Tucker in the 1930 Pine Needles yearbook

You can read more about Tucker in this wonderful article in the Greensboro News & Record or follow up with more detail in this Spartan Stories blog post from 2015.