Ericsson-Jackson, Aprille 19(?)(?)–
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson 19(?)(?)–
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson was the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University and the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She has worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as an aerospace engineer for over five years, and has taught at both Howard University and Bowie State University. In 1996 and 1997 Ericsson-Jackson was named one of the top fifty minority women working in the Science and Engineering fields by the National Technical Association.
Ericsson-Jackson was born in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of four daughters. Raised in the Bedford Styve-sant neighborhood in the Roosevelt projects on Dekalb Avenue, she started out her educational career being bussed to the P.S. 199 elementary school in Brooklyn. It did not take long for Ericsson-Jackson to realize that she had an aptitude for mathematics and science. While she was in her last year at Marine Park Junior High School, she won 2nd place in the science fair and scored in the 90s on all her regent and citywide exams. Not content just to receive high honors for her grades, Ericsson-Jackson was also a member of the junior high school band, the science club, the honors club, and the girl’s basketball team. She passed all the entrance exams for New York’s technical high schools, including the Bronx School of Science, Stuyvesant, and Brooklyn Technical. Instead of attending one of these schools, however, Ericsson-Jackson decided to move out of state.
So she moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts when she was 15 years old to live with her grandparents and attend the Cambridge School of Weston. There she continued to earn high honors and played basketball and softball for both the Cambridge School of Weston teams and the citywide league. During the summer between her junior and senior years she was accepted into the UNITE (now called MITE—Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Science) program, a demanding six-week residential summer program that introduces promising minority high school juniors to, as the program’s name indicates, engineering, science, and entrepreneurship. Later that year she also became a volunteer physical education instructor for the Cambridge elementary schools.
Ericsson-Jackson has always believed in a well-rounded life, partnering her career with an interest in sports. She has said that, had the WNBA existed when she was younger, she would have chosen to become a professional basketball player. Ericsson-Jackson told the ScienceMaster website, “You are more likely to succeed when you are well rounded. [A variety of] activities help a person grow and mature in other ways as well.”
After graduating from high school with honors, Ericsson-Jackson was accepted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering. While attending
At a Glance…
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, B.S. in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering; Howard University, Master of Engineering, Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace option.
Career: Goddard Space Flight Center, engineer; Howard University, instructor; Bowie State University, i nstructor; Iectu rer.
Awards: 6th International Space Conference for Pacific-Basin Societies, first place, Ph.D, student competition; The Women’s Network, Top 18 Women Who Will Change the World; National Technical Association, Top 50 minority women in Science and Engineering, 1996-97; Women in Science and Engineering, Award for Engineering Achievement, 1998; Black Engineers Award Conference, Special Recognition Award, 1998; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Honor Award for Excellence in Outreach, 1998; Center of Excellence, Group Excellence Award for TRMM Project, 1998; NASA representative to White House; numerous fellowships and grants.
Addresses: Home —Washington, D.C. Office—NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 8800 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt, MD 20771.
M.I.T., she was involved in several prestigious and important research projects. One of these projects, at the Applied Psychics Laboratory, allowed Ericsson-Jackson to assist in developing a fiber optic laser gyroscope, while a project at the Space Systems Laboratory involved creating a database for EVA neutral buoyancy data that was calculated at the NASA Johnson Space Center. For her Senior Project, Ericsson-Jackson researched Manned Mars Mission crew systems for interplanetary vehicles.
“These projects,” Ericsson-Jackson said on the NASA website, “generated a strong desire to participate in manned space missions.” One way to do this, she thought, was to become an astronaut. Ericsson-Jackson applied for NASA’s astronaut program, but was placed on medical review because of a history of asthma and a previous knee surgery.
After graduating from M.I.T., Ericsson-Jackson decided to continue her education at Howard University in Washington, D.C. There she was awarded a Master of Engineering degree and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace option. Ericsson-Jackson’s research objective while attending Howard University was to develop practical design procedures for future orbiting space structures, such as the Space Station, that could be used along with optimal digital controllers. To fund this research Ericsson-Jackson received several fellowships and grants from many prestigious sponsors, including the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Coop, the NASA Center for Studies of Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Atmospheres, the Wright Patterson Air Force Laboratories, the Dorothy Danford Compton Dissertation, the NASA DC Space Grant Consortium, Patricia Roberts Harris, and the Pacific Telesis Foundation.
Ericsson-Jackson was also involved in several summer programs, including SEICA and the NASA Space Academy. She traveled to Germany, Canada, England, and throughout the United States to present papers on her research, and won first place in the Ph.D. student competition at the 6th International Space Conference for Pacific-Basin Societies. In addition to receiving funding from the Goddard Space Flight Center, Ericsson-Jackson also held an internship at that organization while she was finishing school. It is because of this internship, she said, that she was offered a full-time job there after she received her Ph.D. “That’s how I did it,” she told the Graduating Engineer and Computer Careers website, “Once you get your foot in the door and meet people, you can show them that you are capable of doing the type of work that’s done here.”
Working as an aerospace engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the Guidance, Navigation, and Control department has presented Ericsson-Jackson with many opportunities to fulfill her dream of forwarding space flight. Some of the satellite projects she has worked on include the X-Ray Timing Explorer (XTE), the Tropical Rain Forest Measurement Mission (TRMM), and the MIDEX project called MAP, or Microwave Anisotropy Probe. For these projects, Ericsson-Jackson has developed and used programs for dynamic modeling simulation. “The programs,” she explained to the Graduating Engineer website, “are invaluable in predetermining the dynamics and structural reactions of the spacecraft.”
In addition to her work on these projects, Ericsson-Jackson has lectured to young people across the country—especially minorities and women—encouraging them to follow in her footsteps. Ericsson-Jackson has also joined a student mentoring program and has created an email pipeline for groups who are under-represented in technology fields. This pipeline is set up to distribute federal grant announcements and information on employment opportunities. Ericsson-Jackson told the ScienceMaster website, “I feel obligated to help spur the interest of minorities and females in the math, science, and engineering disciplines; without diversity in all fields the United States will not remain technically competitive.”
For these and other efforts, Ericsson-Jackson has received several awards, including the Women in Science and Engineering Award for being the best female engineer in the federal government in 1998, a special Recognition Award at the Black Engineers Award Conference, and a NASA Goddard Honor Award for Excellence in Outreach. Ericsson-Jackson has also been named one of the Top 18 Women Who Will Change the World by the Women’s Network.
Ericsson-Jackson has set several ambitious goals to accomplish in the future, including becoming a full-time professor, developing a university satellite research center, and one day creating and chairing an Aerospace Department at her alma mater, Howard University. There are some who would hesitate to set such large goals for themselves, but Ericsson-Jackson, whose favorite saying, according to the Ivillage website, is “Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’re still among the stars,” has never been afraid to aim high.
Essence, May 2000, p. 130.
—Catherine Victoria Donaldson and Jennifer M. York