About NCCU Academics Admissions Athletics Campus Life Giving Research

Retired NASA Astronaut to Deliver Commencement Address

Ms. Joan Higginbotham, former NASA Astronaut, Lowe's Companies Inc. executive and NCCU Board Of Trustees member.
Ms. Hilda Harris

Retired astronaut, Lowe’s Companies Inc. executive and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Trustee Joan Higginbotham will deliver the keynote address at NCCU's 129th Commencement Exercise on Saturday, May 13, 2017. The Commencement Exercise will take place at 8 a.m. in O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium on the university’s 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 as secretary, 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.

An honorary degree will be awarded to renowned opera singer Hilda Harris. Before launching a successful international career, the Warrenton, N.C. native earned a bachelor’s degree in Music from NCCU in 1958. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in a performance of Lulu by Alban Berg.

During her extensive career, she sang the title character role in many operas, including Carmen by Georges Bizet that was performed in Switzerland, Belgium and Hungary. She has worked with the San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the New York City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera and others. She also has performed with orchestras around the world, from the New York Philharmonic to the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra at Hilversum.

Harris is especially well known for her portrayal of “pants roles,” male dramatic roles performed by the female voice and has established herself as a singing actress, earning critical acclaim in opera, on the concert stage and in recital.

In addition to her work on the opera and concert stages, she has made several recordings, including a solo album, “Hilda Harris,” as well as “Gula Matari” and “Walking in Space” with Quincy Jones, “The Valley Wind” song cycle by Hale Smith; “Art Songs by Black American Composers,” and others.

Harris taught voice at Howard University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Manhattan School of Music, and she maintains a private studio in New York City.

A separate ceremony for graduate and professional students will take place Friday, May 12, in McDougald-McLendon Arena.


Published: Thursday, April 13, 2017
by Director of Marketing and Communications, Quiana M Shepard
See All NCCU News

Spread the Word

Post this story on Facebook
Tweet It

Get More News

  • See All NCCU News
  • Searchable Archives
  • Campus Echo, NCCU's perennially Award-Winning Student Newspaper
  • See Today's Top Story
  • Or,  
NCCU complies with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all programs and activities (including sexual harassment and sexual violence) in the University's educational programs and activities. For additional resources or to file a Title IX complaint, visit the NCCU's Title IX webpage.
© 2019 North Carolina Central University 1801 Fayetteville St., Durham, NC 27707