Welcome back to my Black History Month series. First things first, I will admit that I found Dr. Wanda Austin via a Google search of influential/successful black women. I will also admit that one of the selling points for including her is that she is a fellow Pitt grad.
Dr. Wanda M. Austin has been the President and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation since January 2008. She recieved her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Franklin & Marshall College, her master’s degrees in systems engineering and mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh (Hail to Pitt!), and her doctorate from the University of Southern California in systems engineering.
Under her guidance, her company has supported inspiring children and adolescents to pursue studies in STEM, including their participation in MATHCOUNTS, US FIRST Robotics, and Change the Equation.
Austin grew up in a low-income Bronx neighborhood and enjoyed the concreteness of math. “While
pursuing a master’s degree in math at the University of Pittsburgh, she tutored engineers and realized that engineers make more money.” Side bar: I have heard this so many times from professors, just because it is true, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone who likes math. Please realize that. Okay, back to business, “Plus, engineering sounded like a lot more fun.” Now that’s the money right there.
In the brief (very brief) time I have been researching Dr. Austin, I have learned so much about what a successful black woman in science “looks like.” To put it simply, I think this woman looks like EXCELLENCE. I was immediately drawn to her story not because of what she did or where she came from, but because her photo exudes confidence. I look at her and I say, “dang, that’s who I want to be in xx years.”
I feel like researching her story has given me so much confidence to put my all into the outreach activities I am involved in, so that I can motivate our next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to achieve their goals. There is so much I do not know and yet it doesn’t even matter. What I do know is that there is a strong, confident, black woman leading a multimillion dollar company to a pinnacle of success. That is something we need to see more of, not in terms of numbers, but in terms of publicity.
My key takeaway from today’s research is this: If nobody will be your advocate, you need to advocate for yourself. Get out there and show them what you can do!