10 of the Most Important Black Woman Engineers

We're celebrating both Black History Month and Women's History Month with a list of some of today's most prominent black females in engineering.
  • Not enough is said of the contributions of women in engineering in general, and of black women in particular.

    According to the National Science Foundation, black and African American women have seen their share of bachelor's degrees earned in computer sciences, mathematics and statistics, and engineering decline in the period from 1996 to 2014. In relation to African-American women in particular, according to data collected by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), only 26.3% of engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded to African Americans in 2011 went to women. At the same time however, STEM jobs in the United States are expected to increase by 10 percent by 2020, according to a white paper released by the NSBE, and some sectors are currently reporting nearly 600,000 unfilled engineering jobs. “In addition to exploring the challenges and barriers faced by African American women, we must also acknowledge and seek to better appreciate the valuable experiences and knowledge African American women bring to engineering,” the NSBE white paper NSBE says. “Highlighting their distinctive contributions and attributes would challenge implicit and explicit deficit orientation in which this demographic is often framed.”

    To that end Design News is highlighting 10 black female engineers who have, and are still making, significant contributions to engineering. The women featured here cover a variety of fields from aerospace and automotive, to artificial intelligence and green energy.

    Click “next” above to start the slideshow.

  • Donna Auguste

    There were a lot of stepping stones on Apple's road to the iPhone. One of the most well-known of these products, the Newton Personal Digital Assistant , owes its development to Donna Auguste, a former senior engineering manager at Apple.

    Auguste holds various patents related to her work on the Newton. Prior to her tenure at Apple, she conducted research into artificial intelligence at Carnegie-Mellon University, where she earned a master's degree in computer science. In 1996, she founded Freshwater Software, a company that provided software solutions for monitoring web-based applications.

    Auguste retired in 2001 after selling Freshwater Software for $107 million and went on to found the Leave a Little Room Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps provide housing, electricity, and vaccinations to poor and underprivileged communities around the world.

    She is currently a PhD candidate in the ATLAS Institute at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Colorado, where she is working on a project called DataTip, an interdisciplinary science learning environment.

    [image source: Donna Auguste / LinkedIN]

  • Marian Croak

    Currently the vice president of research and development for Access Strategy and Emerging Markets at Google, Marian Croak joined Bell Labs (later AT&T) in 1982 and spent more than 30 years as an engineer at AT&T, where she lead efforts to implement Internet Protocol (IP) technology into telephony and communications. She holds more than 130 patents related to voice-over IP technology.

    In her current role at Google, Croak heads up projects to expand Internet technology and access to emerging markets and developing nations. One of these projects is Project Loon, an effort to extend high-speed Internet access to remote and rural regions via an array of balloons that will hover in the stratosphere. Croak attended Princeton University and the University of Southern California and holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and Quantitative Analysis.

    [image source: Marian Croak / LinkedIN]

  • Timnit Gebru

    Timnit Gebru is a post doctorate researcher at Microsoft Research examining the ethical and moral implications of artificial intelligence.

    A former PhD student in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Gebru's research deals primarily in computer vision applications. In 2017, she co-authored a paper, “Fine-Grained Car Detection for Visual Census Estimation,” in which she and a team of researchers were able to develop a machine learning algorithm that leveraged images of cars from Google Street View to predict census data such as income, per capita carbon emission, and crime rates. Gebru is also the founder of Black in AI, an initiative to develop awareness and increase the number of black people working in artificial intelligence and to work to eliminate racial biases in AI systems.

    [image source: Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory]  

  • Denise Gray

    Denise Gray is the president and CEO of LG Chem Power Inc. (LGCPI), one of the largest producers of lithium-ion batteries for automotive and industrial applications. LGCPI is most noted for partnering with Chevy on the design and implementation of the battery cells, pack, cooling, and powertrain of 2017 Chevy Bolt.

    Gray holds a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Kettering University and earned her master's in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

    Design News conducted a full interview with Gray in 2016, shortly after she took her position at LGCPI.

    [image source: LG Chem Power Inc.]

  • Ayanna Howard

    Dr. Ayanna Howard is the chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Voted one of the 23 most powerful women engineers in the world by Business Insider, Howard has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers covering artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer vision. Her most recent work concerns the interactions of humans and autonomous machines. In 2017, for example, she published a paper, “Effect of Robot Performance on Human–Robot Trust in Time-Critical Situations,” that explored the long-term impact a robot's performance can have on user trust.

    Prior to joining the faculty at Georgia Tech, Howard served as a senior robotics researcher and deputy manager in the Office of the Chief Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology from 1993 to 2005. She is also the founder and CTO of Zyrobotics, a company that develops educational mobile robots for children and the disabled.

    [image source: Georgia Tech]

  • Lisa Jackson

    Lisa Jackson is the vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple. In her role she is responsible for overseeing Apple's efforts to leverage renewable energy sources and green materials as well as develop new green technologies for its products.

    Before joining Apple Jackson served in the Obama administration as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2009 to 2013, making her the first African American to hold the position of Administrator of the EPA. During her tenure at the EPA Jackson worked on policies related to regulation greenhouse gas emissions, air and water quality, and toxic chemicals.

    Jackson holds a master's degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

    [image source: Eric Vance, EPA photographer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

  • Mae C. Jemison

    Mae Jemison is arguably one of the most renowned African Americans in science and engineering. In September of 1992, Jemison became the first African American woman in space as part of a mission aboard the Endeavour space shuttle.

    With a background in medicine, Jemison conducted several experiments aboard the Endeavour in her role as a mission specialist. Her work included examinations into the effects of weightlessness on bone density, motion sickness in astronauts, and experiments with frogs to examine the development of tadpoles in zero gravity.

    In 1993 she left NASA to pursue other interests related to marrying social science and technology. She founded the Dorthy Jemison Foundation for Excellence (named after her mother). In 2012 Jemison's foundation made the winning bid for DARPA's 100 Year Starship Project, a joint efforts between DARPA and NASA to fund a private entity to create a business plan that can lead the next 100 years of technology development for interstellar space travel.

    [image source: NASA (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

  • Katherine Johnson

    Without Katherine Johnson, the United States might never have reached the moon.

    In 1953, Johnson became an original member of the West Area Computers, a group of women at NASA (then called NACA) tasked with number crunching and calculations for guidance and navigations systems. When NACA transitioned to become NASA in 1958 Johnson became the only woman and person of color on NASA's Space Task Force, a group meant to spearhead efforts towards making the US the first country to reach the moon.

    Johnson's trajectory calculations were crucial in several historic space missions, including the Apollo 11 mission. In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for her lifetime of work. In 2017 her story, and that of other members of the West Area Computers, became the basis of the critically-acclaimed film Hidden Figures.

    [image source: NASA; restored by Adam Cuerden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

  • Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga

    Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga is an assistant professor of electrical engineering at The University of Toledo, who is working to increase the range and longevity of battery packs for electric vehicles. She is the inventor of a “bi-level equalizer” that combines attributes of passive and active circuits used in battery packs.

    Traditionally, manufacturers have had to chose between either active or passive circuits to balance voltages in a battery. Mubenga's invention gives them the best of both worlds – the performance of an active equalizer at a cost comparable to a passive equalizer. According to Mubenga, this presents a cost-saving opportunity for battery and automotive OEMs and could also have implications in other industries such as aerospace as well as in large-scale grid storage for cities.

    Mubenga will be discussing her new technology during a conference session at the upcoming Advanced Design and Manufacturing Expo in Cleveland.

    [image source: University of Toledo]

  • Latanya Sweeney

    Latanya Sweeney is a Professor of Government and Technology in Residence at Harvard University and the Director of the Data Privacy Lab in the Institute of Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) at Harvard. Her work focuses primarily on issues of data privacy and leveraging technology to address social and political issues.

    From January to December 2014 she served as the chief technologist of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where she advised the agency on emerging technologies and related policy issues. Her most well-known work is in the area of k-anonymity, a concept she introduced in 1998, which is a method for privatizing data that has been applied to systems such as electronic medical records in which is it important to keep sensitive data from being directly associated with any one individual.

    Sweeney earned a PhD in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), making her the first African American woman to earn a PhD in that field from MIT.

    [image source: Parker Higgins (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]


For the second year,   Advanced Design & Manufacturing Cleveland   is back at the Huntington Convention Center, March 7-8, 2018.   Register today   for loads of free, can’t-miss education focusing on Smart Manufacturing, 3D Printing, Battery technologies, Medtech, and more!

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News   covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.

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