Life comes full circle for an East Tennessee Wonder Woman

Attending MathQuest as a middle school student - sponsored by her current employer - set Dee-Dee James on a path to success.

Life has come full circle for a woman from Knoxville whose interested in math, science and computers.

The action figure Wonder Woman makes her home in a cubicle at Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

"She's powerful. She can't be stopped. And she conquers," Dee-Dee James said. "That's exactly what describes Dee-Dee."

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James is a Business Systems Analyst at ORAU. This Wonder Woman is a problem solver.

"Solving problems whether it be math equations or using things like hypothesis or whatever it was all about the problem solving and how things worked for me," she said.

Dee-Dee James

When she was applying for a job there she came across a company report online. She recognized a photo of herself in the report from 1992. That's when she was a student at Gresham Middle School taking part in a summer camp called MathQuest. That camp was sponsored by a division of ORAU called Orise.

"The picture that was in our annual report here was where we were at the race track in Pigeon Forge and beforehand we were doing speed and velocity of the race track," she said.

Campers stayed in a dorm at the University of Tennessee and traveled to Pigeon Forge to practice math. She remembers measuring the water slides at Ogle's Water Park.

The water park experience took math beyond textbooks.

"Somebody that built that had to know what measurements they were going to use just to get that structure up. That was kind of intriguing like, 'OK, this is real world stuff,'" she said.

But the best part of MathQuest happened in a science lab on campus with computers that were part of the world wide web.

"The teacher that was in there was giving us scenarios and telling us all about the world wide web so that ultimately pumped up my curiosity to where, ok, this seems like something I might enjoy doing," she remembered.

MathQuest all those years ago - sponsored by her current employer - set Dee-Dee James on a path to success.

"We were living in the projects. Life didn't look that well. So with the opportunity to go to camp it was like you can do something else and you like it, too. So here's some foundations. Start getting good with your hands and this will be your out," she said. "It wasn't just computer solving problems. I mean I'm fixing cars and replacing VCR parts and stuff like that. I was definitely set apart from everybody else that was around me."

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The problem solver/Wonder Woman keeps inspirational messages on sticky notes in her cubicle and she shares some words of wisdom for young women today.

"Do not allow your current situation to determine your destination. And anything is possible and you can achieve anything that you want to achieve. Go for it," she said.

ORAU still sponsors summer programs for students including a robotics academy and a "math and movement" academy.