10 Female Scientists of Color You Should Know

2 of 11

Mary Jackson (Photo via NASA)

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson was born in 1921, in Hampton, Virginia. After earning top marks in high school, she went on to the Hampton Institute, a private university, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physical sciences.

In 1951, Jackson joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which would become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She was one of several “human computers”, mathematicians and engineers who calculated the flight trajectories of several NASA missions, including Apollo 11. In the early days of spaceflight before electronic computers became ubiquitous, “computers” were often women, who would manually make all the necessary calculations for missions. NACA had begun hiring these human computers in 1935.

After being promoted to aerospace engineer, Jackson worked to analyze data from wind tunnel and real-world experiments. In her community, Jackson had also gained a reputation as a teacher, once helping local children build a wind tunnel for their own experiments.

Throughout her career, Jackson worked hard to help women and other minorities to advance in their scientific fields. She offered practical advice on coursework and training, encouraging advisees to study so they could change their titles from “mathematician” to “engineer”. Such a seemingly simple change would often increase a woman’s chances to receive raises and promotions.

After more than thirty years as a mathematician and engineer, Jackson took a pay cut to work as an Equal Opportunity Specialist. From then until her retirement, Jackson worked tirelessly to help advance the careers of other women of color. She died in February 2005, having helped many women and people of color advance in their careers, changing the face of NASA’s workforce, and furthering the accomplishments in aerospace science.

Next: Katherine Johnson