Did you know that Mary Jackson was born today in 1921? In 1951 she started working as a research mathematician for NASA and was encouraged to go back to school to finish courses so she could be promoted to an engineering position. Schools were still segregated, so she had to petition for special permission to attend the all-white student classes offered by the University of Virginia. She completed the graduate school classes and in 1958, Mary Jackson became NASA’s first African American female engineer. Later, she mentored and worked to improve opportunities for women in engineering, science and math. Part of Mary Jackson’s remarkable career is featured in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
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Mary Jackson earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physical science.
Initially Mary Jackson worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which eventually became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Mary Jackson worked with Kazimeirz Czarnecki testing model aircraft in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Czarnecki encouraged Mary Jackson to complete graduate courses so she could qualify for an engineering position. As an engineer, Mary Jackson continued to study aerodynamics and how to improve aircraft.
When Mary Jackson was promoted to the highest position in the engineering department, she decided to take a demotion and serve as an administrator in Equal Opportunity Specialist field. During this phase of her career, Mary Jackson was able to make changes and highlight the contributions of women and minorities. She worked to support the career paths of women and minorities in science, math, and engineering at NASA.
Mary Jackson volunteered as a Girl Scout leader for 30 years. At one point she helped children in her community build a miniature wind tunnel to test model airplanes.
Mary Jackson also worked as a math teacher, bookkeeper, clerk, tutor, and mentor.
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