Dr Wanda Austin – Successful STEM Business Women

Read about Dr. Wanda Austin - the successful STEM women who made her mark in business, Aeronautics & Systems Engineering.

Although racial discrimination is not now prevalent in the developed countries such as the United States of America, the scenario was different a few decades back.

For African-Americans, it was extremely tough to pursue higher studies and even more tough to be successful on the professional front.

However, Dr. Wanda Austin set an exemplary example. She is now a successful and highly respected businesswoman. Dr. Wanda is a recognized personality for her Systems Engineering and Aeronautics work.

Source

Childhood

Wanda Austin was born in 1954 in the Bronx, a small borough of New York City. It was a crime-infested area not conducive to have a good education.

While her father was a barber, her mother was an aide of a nurse. They use to live in a small room above their shop.

Her father used to work for 12-14 hours a day to make ends meet. Although her father never completed high school, he knows the importance of education to have a better life. 

Wanda got the inspiration to study well from her father. Wanda used to clean the floor and shelves of her father’s shop after her school hours, and then she even had to do a couple of household chores almost daily.

When Wanda was in the third grade, she got split between the worlds of Whites and Blacks as her school was chosen for racial integration. 

Wanda’s parents helped her profoundly to overcome the challenge by motivating her to stay away from drugs, teen pregnancy, etc.

To develop a positive outlook, her mother used to take her to museums, exhibitions, and other sightseeing spots within the city. 

Education

Dr. Wanda Austin was a studious child since her childhood days.

So, she was enrolled in the Bronx High School of Science as it was one of the top schools during those days. It was in this school, Wanda started to dream about going to a college for further studies.

It was a dream that no one in her family ever dared! in 1971, after completing her schooling, Wanda Austin applied to several colleges.

However, she finally decided to take admission to the Franklin & Marshall College. At that time, it was the only college that was offering her a scholarship and financial aid that she needed desperately to study in a college. 

In 1975, she earned a Bachelor in Science degree with a major in mathematics.

Encouraged by one of her professors, she then moved to the University of Pittsburg and started to work as a teaching assistant while studying system engineering and maths.

Eventually, she completed her Master’s in June 1977. The very next month, she got married and was shifted to California in August 1977.

Next, she went to the University of California to do a Ph.D. in systems engineering and completed the same in 1988. Later on, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Southern California. 

Work

In 1977, Wanda Austin started her career by joining Rockwell International in California as a technical staff.

After two years, she left her job and started working at The Aerospace Corporation as technical staff. At that time, she was only one among the four other women working in that department.

She was motivated to work hard to get recognized. Lady luck smiled on Wanda, and within a few years, the company named her as Women of the Year.

She was even honored with the Robert H. Herndon Black Image Award for her incredible work in payload system acquisition, system simulation, system engineering, and more. 

In 1996, she got recognition when she got a promotion.

She was appointed as the General Manager of the electronic systems division.

Next, she was appointed as the General Manager of the Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) Division.

Soon, she started to climb the ladder of success and was named the Senior Vice President of the engineering and technology group. 

Wanda Austin was then the only woman in her team to climb the leadership ladder within the organization.

However, she got a significant boost in her career when the board of trustees appointed her as the CEO in 2008! 

With this appointment, Wanda Austin created history.

She became the first female and the first African American to reach this height of success within the organization in its more than five decades of history.

Till 2016, she remained in that position and managed a team of 3600 employees. 

In 2015, Wanda Austin’s career got a significant boost when President Barack Obama chose her to be in PCAST, an advisory group of leading scientists and engineers to offer direct advice to the President.

PCAST aimed to make policy recommendations in areas where it is essential to have a concrete understanding of science, technology, and innovation for strengthening the US economy and policy formulation for its people.

Here, it is notable that earlier, Wanda Austin was appointed to the Advisory Council of NASA in 2014. 

In 2018, Wanda Austin added another feather in her cap by becoming the Interim President of the University of Southern California.

You will be surprised to know that there is even a scholarship named after Wanda Austin. The university offers it to students who need financial assistance to continue their studies. 

Awards

Dr. Wanda Austin won several accolades in her career. Let’s have a view of some of the most notable awards achieved by her. 

2002- Elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

2007-Inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame

2009- Black Engineer of the Year Award

2010- Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management

2012- Horatio Alger Award and the NDIA Peter B. Teets Industry Award

2014- Distinguished Alumni Award from the University by the University of Southern California

2018- University of Southern California Presidential Medallion

Apart from the above awards, Dr. Wanda Austin also received the National Intelligence Medallion for Meritorious Service, Air Force Scroll of Achievement, National Reconnaissance Office Gold Medal, the AIAA Godard Astronautics Award. She is also an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). 

Wanda Austin also served the National Academy of Engineering as a councilor and the International Academy of Astronautics as a member. She was also a respected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences(AAAS), headquartered in Cambridge. 

Books 

2016- Making Space: Strategic Leadership for a Complex World

Dr. Wanda Austin is seriously committed to inspiring the gen-next to have a career in the STEM field.

Under her able guidance, the Aerospace Corporation had taken several initiatives to support her goal. It involves active participation of the young generation in MathCounts, a nationally competitive program, FIRST Robotics-a high school robotics competition, and Change the Equation-an organization to engage young people in the STEM discipline.

References

https://about.usc.edu/presidents/wanda-austin/

https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/wanda-austin-41

https://horatioalger.org/members/member-detail/wanda-m-austin/

https://news.usc.edu/157864/wanda-austin-leadership-interim-president/

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Angela
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