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Mary Jackson: NASA's First Female Black Engineer

By Anjali Dubey

Born in 1921 in Hapton, Virginia, in the United States, Mary Jackson was one of the most legendary women in tech. After graduating from high school with the highest honours, she pursued a degree in mathematics and physical science from Hampton University. After that, she accepted a job as a math teacher at a school in Maryland and started tutoring high school and college students.

Jackson’s journey to NASA was neither easy nor direct. After returning home to Hampton from Maryland, she started working as a receptionist at the King Street USO Club. Then she worked as a bookkeeper at Hampton Institute’s Health Department and later as a clerk at the Office Of the Chief Army field forces at Fort Monroe.

In 1951, she started her career as a research mathematician or computer in her hometown under Dorothy Vaughan.In 1953 Jackson left the West Computers to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki, conducting experiments in a high-speed wind tunnel. He suggested that she should enter a training program to become an engineer. Since Virginia’ s schools were still segregated, she had to get special permission to take classes with white students. After completing all the courses, she started her career at NASA, which would last for the coming 20 years and became the first black female engineer for NASA. Most of her work was centered on the airflow around aircraft.

Jackson worked as an engineer in several NASA divisions: the Compressibility Research Division, Full-Scale Research Division, High-Speed Aerodynamics Division, and the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division. She ultimately authored or co-authored 12 technical papers for NACA and NASA. After attaining the senior most position, she accepted a demotion and became the manager of the Federal Women’s Program at NASA where she worked to help women and other minorities to advance their careers, including advising them how to study in order to qualify for promotions. After a glorious life of pushing boundaries, defying norms and working tirelessly towards the development and welfare of women and marginalised communities, Mary Jackson passed away in 1985. Her career and dedication towards STEM is filled with inspiration for young women interested in the field to work tirelessly to fight all obstacles and adversities in their way and achieve their dreams to shape the future of the world.

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