Women in STEM: Shirley Ann Jackson

In honor of the transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, we bring you another installment in our “Women in STEM” series. Today, we feature Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African American woman to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

51_jacksonShirley Ann Jackson is the 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Jackson graduated high school valedictorian and in 1964 she began classes at MIT. At that time, she was one of less than 20 African American students and the only African American student studying theoretical physics.

In 1968 she completed her bachelor’s degree and in 1973 she became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from MIT and only the second African American woman to earn a doctorate in physics. Jackson studied elementary particle theory at MIT and continued this research after completing her degrees. In 1974 she became a visiting scientist at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland continuing her research in elementary physics. In 1976 she began working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center as a lecturer. The same year she started at the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories studying materials to be used in semiconductors. Beginning in 1991 she served as a faculty at Rutgers University, while still working with Bell Laboratories.

In 1995, Shirley was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She was both the first woman and first African American to hold this prestigious position. President Barack Obama appointed her to serve as one of the 20 members on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2008.

In 1999 she became the 18th president of RPI, a position she still holds today. Again, she was the first woman and first African American to hold this position. During her time, she has helped raise over $1 billion for philanthropic causes and over seen a large campus improvement campaign. As President of RPI, she has been one of the highest paid university presidents in the nation, she was the highest paid college president in 2009.

Because of her many impressive accomplishments, she has been elected to many special scientific societies and even been awarded the Exceptional Black Scientist Award and the National Medal of Science in 2014. In 1998 she was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of fame. She has served on the Board of Directors for many impressive organizations including the New York Stock Exchange, IBM, and the Smithsonian Institution.

-Peggy Magro


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