This week’s #WCWinSTEM is Mary Winston Jackson, NASA mathematician.
As compiled by Chrystelle Vilfranc
As promised, we will continue highlighting the remarkable Black-women mathematicians at the center of Margot Lee Shetterly‘s Hidden Figures. Our #WCWinSTEM this week is Mary Jackson, a mathematician who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA.
Jackson was born in Hampton, Virginia. She graduated from the Hampton Institute with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physical science in 1942. After graduating, she served as a school teacher in Maryland. In 1943 she became a secretary and a bookkeeper for the United Service Organization (USO).
In 1951, Jackson started working as a research mathematician in the West Area Computing unit at the Langley Research Center of NACA in Hampton, VA. This unit was specifically for African American female mathematicians. In 1953 she moved to the Compressibility Research Division. With five years at NASA and additional training courses, Jackson joined a special training program and was promoted to aerospace engineer. She analyzed data from wind tunnel experiments and aircraft flight experiments at the Theoretical Aerodynamics Branch of the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division at Langley. Many years later Jackson was assigned to work with the flight test engineers at NASA.
Jackson was truly a great influence at NASA. While there, she worked to help women and other minorities, advising them how to study to be promoted from “mathematician” to “engineer” to increase their chances of a promotion. After 34 years at NASA, she had reached the highest level of engineer that was possible for her. She had not yet been appointed as a supervisor. She decided to change positions to become an administrator in the Equal Opportunity Specialist field, although she would receive a pay cut. She was sent to train at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. She then returned to work at Langley where she applied her training.
Jackson continued to make changes and highlight women and other minorities. She served as the Federal Women’s Program Manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs. Jackson also served as the Affirmative Action Program Manager. Jackson was quite involved with the hiring of highly-qualified individuals. She was a great role model who often worked behind the scenes; however, she managed to help many minorities and women reach their highest potential through promotions even into supervisory positions. She remained with NASA until she retired in 1985.
We are grateful for all that Mary Jackson has done to pave the way for women in #STEM!
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