Aprille Ericsson-Jackson; first African-American female to receive Ph.D. in Engineering from Howard

Mohammed Awal Mar 17, 2020 at 12:00pm

March 17, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Tech & Innovation

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

March 17, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Tech & Innovation

Aprille Ericsson: Image credit: Wikimedia commons

Aprille Ericsson-Jackson feels obligated to help spur African American interest in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

She believes, “without diversity in all fields the United States will not remain technically competitive.”

Ericsson-Jackson is the first female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University, and the first African-American female to receive a doctorate in Engineering from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center.

One can trace Ericsson-Jackson’s admiration and love for STEM to three moments in her childhood in an interview with the USA Science and Engineering Festival as cited in a Capitol Technology University bio of her.

“The first was watching the Apollo missions on TV in school in first grade; the second was me winning second place in the 8th-grade science fair where I built my first science instrument, and third, attending the MIT UNITE science outreach program for minority students which I participated in during the summer of my junior year in high school,” she said.

Born on April 1, 1963, in BrooklynNew York, and raised in the Bedford Styve-sant neighborhood in the Roosevelt projects on Dekalb Avenue, Ericsson-Jackson is the oldest of four daughters. 

She moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts when she was 15 years old to live with her grandparents and attend the Cambridge School of Weston. Ericsson-Jackson would be accepted into the UNITE (now MITE—Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Science) program during the summer between her junior and senior years.

After graduating from the Cambridge School she entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering. 

A proof that one can achieve his or her career goals with meager resources, 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 trailblazing Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace option. 

Her research objective while attending Howard University, according to Encyclopedia.com “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.”

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 to fund the research.

As first American female to receive a doctorate in Engineering from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center, a great deal of Ericsson-Jackson’s engineering career at the GSFC was spent helping NASA evolve and fine-tune a global understanding of the sun-earth connection, earth, and space science. 

“Her NASA career started as an aerospace engineer in the Robotics group, but soon after, she transferred into the Guidance Navigation & Control discipline. Ericsson’s expertise was used to manage the spacecraft’s orientation and position during most phases of a mission. Using computers, she calculated and simulated structural vibrations, thrusting scenarios and environmental disturbances,” according to the National Society of Black Physicists.

Ericsson-Jackson’s accomplishments throughout her career have earned her many awards and recognition. She has received numerous honors, including Howard University’s College of Engineering, Architecture, & Computer Science Alumni Excellence Award; NASA’s Exceptional Achievement in Outreach Award, and the President’s Medal from York College.

Ericsson-Jackson’s current responsibilities as reported by the National Society of Black Physicists include serving as the acting IM for the ICESat-2/ATLAS (Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite), a $240 million instrument that will provide measurements to quantify changes in ice-sheet mass and its drivers, and the impact of these changes on future global sea level; monitor atmospheric exchanges of energy, mass, and moisture; and measure vegetation canopy height.

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