Black American Contributions to Engineering
The contributions of Black men and women throughout the field of engineering has made a long-lasting impact within the industrial fields throughout history. While this is a fact, the truth is that there is still a small number of minorities employed in the science and engineering fields, a study done by the National Science Foundation in 2015 stated only 6.8% of those jobs are occupied by African-Americans within the USA, compared to 12% in the workforce as a whole.
While under represented within the industry, Black men and women have contributed enormously to the development of industrial work. In celebration of Black History Month in the US as well as National Engineering Week, we bring you a few African-Americans that have pushed the boundaries of not only race, but their profession as well.
Engineering has been able to follow the development of the digital age with help from Walter Braithwaite. Starting working at Boeing in 1966 as a tool engineer, he moved his way up in the company through the next 36 years of his career. While working as a supervisor in central engineering, he was considered to be the founder of CAD/CAM Integrated Information Network (CIIN). He then was able to use the product to design airplanes first, with the product now being widely used throughout many different industries.
Without Braithwaite's development of CIIN, the engineering world could be a totally different world today.
Born in Canada to runaway slaves in 1844, Elijah McCoy went to Scotland to receive a mechanical engineering degree at the age of 15. When he returned, he was unable to obtain an engineering job in the United States due to racial barriers, despite background or experience.
He settled in as a fireman and oiler at a railroad company and began his career. While working at the railway company, he saw an opportunity to create a device to oil the axles of the trains and received his first patent for it. During his life, he received nearly 60 patents within the industry and was crucial in developing the railroad system across the United States in the late 19th century.
One of NASA's top minds today is Aprille Ericsson-Jackson. She received a Bachelor's of Science in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering at MIT in 1986, followed by a master's degree in engineering from Howard University in 1992 and then a doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1992, the first African-American woman to get her doctorate in mechanical engineering.
She started her work at NASA from there and moved up within the organization, holding titles such as senior deputy instrument manager for NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite program and Goddard Space Flight Center’s Program Manager for Small Business Innovative Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research. She has worked on numerous missions while at NASA and is one of the leading minds there.
Wanda M. Austin
Staying within the aerospace industry, Dr. Wanda M. Austin has earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Franklin & Marshall College, master’s degrees in systems engineering and mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh, and a doctorate in systems engineering from the University of Southern California.
With those impressive degrees, Austin has been a leading mind in the aerospace industry since beginning her career. She is currently President and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, an independent space program that works with the national security space programs in the USA.
Among Austin's seemingly countless awards, she is a member of the WITI (Women in Technology International) Hall of Fame and received the 2009 Black Engineer of the Year Award.
While these Black Americans have been some of the most well-known within the engineering field, there are many different contributions made by others that go unnoticed or underappreciated on a day-to-day basis.
With only 6.8% of engineering jobs being held by African-Americans compared to around 12% across the workforce in the United States, there is much improvement that can be seen with diversifying the industry in terms of minorities as well as women.