Dr. Wanda Austin, internationally celebrated engineer and aerospace industry leader. (Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons)
We’re turning our gaze toward the stars as we celebrate Dr. Wanda Austin. An internationally celebrated engineer and aerospace industry leader, Dr. Austin has been a part of the STEM industry since her earliest professional days working on radar modeling systems at Rockwell International.
Her love for STEM began long before the start of her career. Raised in a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx, Dr. Austin always favored math in school above all else; she found comfort in the fact that math’s answers couldn’t be disputed. Her passion for mathematics drove her undergraduate studies at Franklin & Marshall College and post-graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh. It wasn’t until she started working as an engineering tutor that she realized her passions for math could be pursued under a larger umbrella: STEM.
Dr. Austin began working at Aerospace as one of the few female engineers, a trend that hasn’t changed much between her start at the company in 1982 and now. Her work at the company, including the GPS satellite constellation, Air Force communications and the Pentagon’s global network of strategic communications, all led to her eventual promotion to CEO and President of Aerospace in 2008.
Her high-profile position at Aerospace, along with her appointment to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Defense Science Board, and the NASA Advisory Council, has positioned her as a true leader in STEM, an industry where minority representation, both in gender and race, is low, to say the least.
Never one to shy away from a difficult challenge, Dr. Austin’s most recent commitment is to motivate the next generation of learners to study STEM disciplines, as she hopes to serve as a role model for young women and minorities looking to go down similar paths. She’s taken concrete steps toward this goal, undertaking impactful roles in the development of NASA programs, including MathCounts, US FIRST Robotics, and Change the Equation, a program focused on strengthening STEM education for everyone.
Beyond emphasizing the importance of education, Dr. Austin’s advice for aspiring engineers revolves around something you might not expect: rather than simply honing technical skills and knowledge, Dr. Austin touts the merits of strong communication and leadership skills. To her, it is just as important to study as it is to be able to communicate the impact of the STEM work to those outside of the discipline, as well as understand that “leadership is not a birthright; it is a skill. Leaders can come from anywhere and in any form.”
Dr. Austin is a STEM hero, not just because of her achievements, but because of her drive to encourage growth in an industry that has remained stagnant for so long. Maybe, with time, her initiatives will be enough to spur the next generation of STEM leaders.