by Dru Walters, Student Contributor
Whitesburg, KY native and ALC friend, Dr. Shelba Proffitt, is one of the extraordinary people behind space defense for the United States of America. Dr. Proffitt began her career as a member of the Von Braun Space Team in Huntsville, Alabama, and went on to work 50 years on space and defense programs. However, before Dr. Proffitt was using her education to help put a man on the moon and defend America, she attended a two-room schoolhouse in Isom, Kentucky, just a few miles from Alice Lloyd College.
“I had wonderful and inspiring teachers, as well as a family who understood the value of education. My grandmother always said ‘Anything anyone else can do, you can do.’ That reminder came in handy when I had to study quantum physics.”
Dr. Shelba Proffitt went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, Biology, and Physics from Centre College. In 2019, the College selected only 25 alumni to honor for their bicentennial celebrations, and Dr. Proffitt was one of those chosen. She said that often she was the only girl in her science classes but everyone was very encouraging; she never felt discriminated against either in school or her long professional career.
After graduation, Dr. Proffitt moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where she joined the Van Braun Space Project. She fell in love with space technology and attended night school to study aerospace engineering. She subsequently obtained a Masters and Ph.D. in Management of Science and Technology. Dr. Proffitt joined the Army’s Air, Space, and Missile Defense program where she helped develop the technologies for missile defense of the United States. She became the Program Manager for the National Space and Missile Defense Program and during her five years in this position, she took the program from research and development to production and fielding.
Dr. Proffitt credits her education, work ethic and attitude as reasons for her success and sees a little bit of herself in the students at Alice Lloyd College. She says, “I really admire the students at Alice Lloyd. I know that they will make major contributions to their families, Eastern Kentucky, and their country.”
During her career, Dr. Proffitt has interfaced with the Secretary of Defense, the Department of the Army, NASA, international leaders, and the aerospace industry. She has published over 25 technical papers, holds two patents, was awarded a Senior Executive Service Presidential Rank, and in 1996, she was awarded second place for Outstanding Women in the Department of the Army. She was also given the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Proffitt was chosen by National Space Club for the Engineer of the Year in 1999. In 2004, she was inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame and in 2005, she was inducted into the Air, Space, and Missile Defense Hall of Fame. Dr. Proffitt is still working as a consultant for the Department of Defense.
“Students at Alice Lloyd are creating opportunities for themselves. The work and sacrifices they are making now will allow them to change their lives, the lives of their families and their communities.”
Through the generosity of Dr. Shelba Proffitt and friends like her, students in Pippa Passes are able to pursue their education with no out-of-pocket costs for tuition. It is a blessing to keep the promise that our founder made to never turn away a qualified student due to a lack of financial resources. With each passing year, Dr. Proffitt helps us to prove that Mrs. Lloyd’s famous words, ‘The leaders are here!’ are as true today as they were over one hundred years ago.
“Kids from the mountains can do things like help a man land on the moon and create the most advanced missile defense system in the world. The right attitude with the right opportunity can create miracles, and I am glad to help continue that tradition.”