USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

Women Who Changed the World Through Science: Shirley Ann Jackson

(Science Question of the Day: Motivating and preparing the next generation of innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a national mission for Shirley. Read and share her story, and then ask yourself: Am I doing all I can to prepare?)

For more than a decade, the name Shirley Ann Jackson has been synonymous with excellence in scientific achievement. Time magazine in 2005 described her as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science.”  No doubt, she is deserving of such accolades.  A noted theoretical physicist, Shirley is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (with locations in Troy, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn.), America’s oldest technological university where she has led the institution’s recent $1.4 billion transformation in research and student life initiatives.

Her list of “firsts” in the field of science are also impressive and include: being the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); first woman and first African-American to chair the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the first African-American woman to lead a national research university (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).

Shirley is helping to lead a national effort to increase the declining number of students — especially women and minorities– entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. She warns that America’s economic and national security depends upon its capacity to train and inspire the next generation of innovators.  Serving as a role model to students is a labor of love for her since she says she had key individuals who inspired her as a child while growing up in Washington D.C. These include include her parents (who strongly valued education) and a cadre of teachers who gave her the confidence to compete and perform in any field she chose. “Commit the time, energy, and effort required to achieve,” Shirley advises.

For more exciting role models in science and engineering, visit the USA Science & Engineering Festival www.usasciencefestival.org