Celebrating Black History Month – Mary Jackson

This article was originally published by Haimini Parmar for the IOM3 blog 9 Oct 2020

To celebrate Black History Month, Haimini Parmar, IOM3 Ethnic Minorities in Materials, Minerals and Mining Committee (EMM3) member and Materials Science and Engineering Student at Loughborough University, talks about Aerospace Engineer Mary Jackson and how she paved the way for future innovation and workplace activism.

The professional person of colour who has inspired me the most is Mary Jackson. In 1958, she became NASA’s first African-American female aerospace engineer. She has 12 technical papers to her name – and largely focused her career on understanding the airflow around aircraft, particularly related to the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. The contributions of Mary Jackson and many like her have underpinned the success of Project Mercury, and ultimately, the Space Race. Mary went on to manage the Federal Women’s Program and Affirmative Action Program, to create equal opportunity for women and ethnic minorities in science, engineering and mathematics at NASA.

Pioneers like Mary Jackson have paved the way for members of the BAME community who, like myself, are pursuing careers in STEM. She overcame the limitations of institutional racial segregation by petitioning state courts to allow her to get the qualifications she needed from an all-white school. This defiant act kickstarted Mary’s journey towards achieving the most senior role in NASA’s engineering department, after serving the organisation for 34 years. For me, this represents the importance of self-motivation and resilience to fulfil my aspirations. Her attitude encourages me to feel less alienated when I find that I am one of the few women of colour in my educational and professional settings. In fact, Mary Jackson has proved that this is something to be proud of, and I believe that EMM3 Group will be an excellent platform for seeking greater recognition of diversity in the workplace.

For more information on EMM3, contact [email protected]

More information on Black History Month.