NASA’s 1st Black Engineer: Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson has just recently been recognized as the first black engineer to work for NASA. To those who know her, she was a girl scout leader for many years and also helped teach students in her community. Her choice of eyewear consisted of thick fames with wide almost square looking lenses.

Early Childhood

Born in 1921 in Virginia, USA; Mary was like most young black students at the time that wanted to further their education after high school.

She had to attend an all black college where she excelled in mathematics and would  later obtain her degree in both Maths and Sciences at 21.

After college she took on some teaching  and office jobs before getting married and becoming a mother.

Happy #MotivationalMonday Tribunes! You've heard of the movie "Hidden Figures", but do you know the stories from behind the screen? Meet Mary Jackson! Born on April 9, 1921, Mary always had a heart for science and for improving the lives of those around her. She graduated from the Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual Bachelors degree in Mathematics and Physical Science. She was initially hired at NASA in 1951 in the West Area Computing section under Dorothy Vaughan. After working two years as a computer, she was offered the chance to work under engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the Supersonic Wind Tunnel. Mary went back to school to get her engineering degree and in 1958 became NASA's first black female engineer. In the 1950's she very well may have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the field. To say Mary was an inspiration would be an understatement! Come check out her story, and the other women's stories behind the space race as @margotleeshetterly comes to MCC this Wednesday and speaks about her book.

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Mary went to work at NASA in 1951 (where she spent thirty four years) with her first job as one of the “Human Computers.”

Under the tutelage of Dorothy Vaughan, coloured employees were situated in a segregated area inside the organization.

Her job involved reducing data from wind tunnel and air craft experiments that NASA performed at that time.

In order for her to progress to an Engineer, Jackson attended night courses held in a segregated area where only white students where allowed originally.

She would not let that deter her from going onto the training course, where upon graduation she became NASA”s first black Engineer.

Giving Back

Mary progressed to gain one of the highest engineering positions at NASA, but took a pay reduction to take a lower position helping women and other minorities to train and to achieve their highest engineering goals just as she did.

By the time of retirement in 1985, her longevity in her chosen profession was a testament to the dedication and brilliance to Science, Mathematics and Technology.

By helping others, especially from her own ethnicity, to move into the profession, therefore she dispelled the still widely held myth that black people can only do things within the field of sports and entertainment.

The fact that we are just learning about these legendary black women and their immense contributions to NASA all those years ago tells its own story.

Passing in 2005, she was eighty three. Her life story (as well as that of Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson) has been dramatized in the film “Hidden Figures”, adapted from the book of the same title which details how Black American Scientists and Mathematicians helped the U.S. beat the Russians in sending a man to the moon.

She was known by her peers to be a determined yet charitable woman, whos work and accomplishments at NASA have helped many people of colour and women be able to have the kind of long and successful career that she had.

These Gucci GG 3638/S glasses are a similar shape to the ones worn by Mary Jackson:


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