Henry R(andall) Grooms Biography
Had Early Interest in Architecture, Worked on Space Systems Programs, Co-founded Project REACH
Structural engineer Henry R. Grooms has enjoyed a distinguished career of more than thirty years with Rockwell International (now Boeing), where he supervised projects for the Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. He is also noted for his commitment to community programs that promote youth achievement. Described as a "role model for aspiring professionals and students everywhere" by a vice president at his company, Grooms was honored as Engineer of the Year at Rockwell in 1980, and in 2004 received the Black Engineer of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Society of Black Engineers' Lifetime Achievement Award in Industry.
Had Early Interest in Architecture
Born on February 10, 1944, in Cleveland, Ohio, Grooms grew up in a single-parent family where he learned early to work hard to achieve his goals. Though finances were scarce, his mother encouraged him to pursue a college education. He applied to several schools in Ohio, where he wished to remain during college, but these schools offered him only partial financial aid. A counselor suggested that Grooms apply to Howard University, a historically black school in Washington, D.C., that offered scholarships based on academic ability. Initially reluctant to consider Howard, Grooms scored so well on the school's admission exam that he was offered full financial aid. He enrolled there as an engineering major in 1961.
As a boy, Grooms had dreamed of becoming an architect. But the more he learned about the design of buildings, the more he realized that the profession of architecture required an artistic talent that he felt he did not possess. Since he excelled in math and enjoyed analytical activities, such as solving problems and doing puzzles, he felt that engineering—which shared some characteristics with architecture—would be a profession well-suited to his interests and abilities.
In an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, Grooms explained that he was at first leery of attending a traditionally black university. But he soon grew to love Howard, which created an environment that emphasized black pride and achievement. He joined Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity, and was later elected to Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society. During his sophomore year at Howard, Grooms married and became a father. With a wife and baby daughter to support, he took on outside work to fulfill his financial responsibilities. Even so, he was able to complete his coursework within four years and graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1965.
During his senior year at Howard, Grooms decided that he wanted to continue his studies at the graduate level. Seeing an advertisement for graduate engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, he mailed in an attached postcard for more information. Carnegie Mellon responded with an offer of a full scholarship as well as a stipend that would pay living expenses for Grooms and his family. He accepted the offer and enrolled in 1965. Though Grooms initially intended to obtain only a master's degree, two of his professors persuaded him to continue toward a Ph.D. He received his M.S.C.E. from Carnegie-Mellon in 1967 and his Ph.D. in 1969.
This achievement placed Grooms in an elite group. In the 1960s, perhaps only 4 or 5 percent of engineering graduates obtained doctorates; today the figure is not much higher, perhaps 7 to 8 percent. The majority of engineering Ph.D.s teach on college campuses. Grooms, however, chose a career in industry.
Ironically, Grooms had encountered some resistance from his family when he decided to major in engineering. His mother did not support his choice, fearing that an African-American engineer would not be able to find a job. But, he told Contemporary Black Biography, he was stubborn and independent, and followed his own path despite his mother's objections. Grooms excelled in school, and worked part-time and during summers first as a highway engineer for the Washington, D.C., highway department, and then in Pittsburgh as a structural engineer at the Peter F. Loftus Corporation and at the Blaw-Knox Company. After completing his Ph.D. he landed a job with North American Rockwell, a company that designed and manufactured aircraft, defense systems, and spacecraft. The company became Rockwell International in 1973, and in 1996 its space and defense divisions merged with Boeing, the world's leading aerospace company.
Worked on Space Systems Programs
At Rockwell, Grooms joined the technical staff as a structural engineer. This position, he explained, entails the analysis of structures to determine whether they are strong enough to perform the task for which they are designed. Over the course of his career he has worked on a wide variety of projects and supervised several technical teams; he has also authored or coauthored more than 20 technical papers. He is now senior manager of Strength, Structural Analysis, and Design for the Engineering organization at Boeing's operations in Huntington Beach, California.
Grooms has received particular recognition for work on technical, structural, and stress analysis of materials for various space systems programs. These include the Delta launch vehicle, which was developed to launch satellites and which has become the world's leading commercial launcher; Skylab, the country's first experimental space system, which was launched in 1973; and the Apollo program, which included the first vehicle to orbit the earth, the first vehicle to orbit the moon, and the lunar landing modules. Grooms' team has also worked on the Space Shuttle, for which Boeing has provided engineering support since 1981. Grooms has published several technical articles on space shuttle operation, including "Structural Analysis of the Space Shuttle Orbiter" and "What Is an Optimal Spacecraft Structure?"
Among his team's most recent projects is the X-37 Reusable Space Plane, which is designed as an air-launched vehicle that can remain in orbit for 21 days and then land on a conventional runway. The X-37 program will allow engineers to observe how reusable launch vehicle technologies actually work in space, and could lead to improvements in materials that protect spacecraft from intense heat during reentry. The project, according to a NASA fact sheet, is part of NASA's "new innovative business strategy to dramatically reduce the cost of space transportation."
In 1980, Rockwell International honored Grooms with its Engineer of the Year Award. He has also been a fellow of the Institute of Advancement in Engineering, and received an Outstanding Engineering Volunteer Award in 1999. In 2002 he was elected a fellow of the African Scientific Institute. In recognition of his contributions to the Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs, Grooms received both the Black Engineer of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Society of Black Engineers' Lifetime Achievement Award in Industry in 2004.
Co-founded Project REACH
Grooms, the father of twelve children, has also earned recognition for his longstanding involvement in community programs. He has served as a Boy Scout scoutmaster, youth basketball and youth soccer coach, and tutor. In particular, he has been honored for his work promoting education and achievement for at-risk youth. In 1993 he co-founded Project REACH, a nonprofit organization that provides financial, academic, and support services to help minority students prepare for success in college. The need for such a program, he told Contemporary Black Biography, became apparent to him when he coached his children's soccer and basketball teams and got to know students who had the potential to succeed but needed help. "Too often," he said, "organizations just throw money at the problem" without providing other kinds of assistance. With his wife, who worked with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and two coworkers—Dwayne Orange at the Housing Authority and Faye Belson-Hardin at Boeing—Grooms started REACH to provide guidance, mentoring, study skills, and scholarships to students planning to enroll in college.
REACH began with 20 students, and conducted about 15 workshops the first year. The program has since grown to accommodate between 20 and 40 students each year. REACH provides many workshops and activities, including college visits, study sessions, and guest speakers from various fields. It is important, Grooms explained, for students to be able to identify with "real live people" of color who hold jobs in professions to which the students themselves aspire. REACH tracks students through college and helps them to deal with issues that might pressure them to consider dropping out. The aim, Grooms said, is to encourage students to stay in school and graduate. Just watching Project REACH succeed, Grooms said—which can mean keeping students "on a good path" even if they do not necessarily graduate—"is a great reward." The program now boasts about 20 students who have earned their B.S. degrees or higher and have come back to participate in the program as mentors.
Grooms continues to serve as executive director of Project REACH. He has written about the importance of education for minority students in "Why Are There So Few Black Students in Engineering?," "Reaching Out to 'At-Risk' High School Students," and "Trying to Influence 'At-Risk' High School Students."
In addition to his awards for professional achievement, Grooms received the Alumni Merit Award from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1985, and was an honoree of the Case Western Reserve Society Black History Archives Project in 1989. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, Kappa Alpha Psi, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Howard University Matrix, Fall, 2004, pp. 8-9.
"Four Boeing Engineers Receive National Black Engineer Awards," Boeing, www.boeing.com/news/releases/2004/q1/nr_040218s.html (February 18, 2005).
"National Society of Black Engineers 2004 Golden Torch Awards," National Society of Black Engineers, www.nsbe.org/publicrelations/winner_bios.php (January 6, 2005).
"Space Shuttle," Boeing, www.boeing.com/defensespace/space/hsfe_shuttle/flash.html (January 6, 2005).
"X-37 Demonstrator to Test Future Launch Technologies in Orbit and Reentry Environments," NASA, www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/background/facts/x37facts2.html (May, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a telephone interview with Dr. Henry R. Grooms on January 10, 2005.
—E. M. Shostak
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