An Aerospace Engineer Breaks Glass Ceilings Reaching for Stars: An Interview With Aprille Ericsson

By Randi Zuckerberg

April 25, 2017 4 min read

After the success of the Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures," interest in women working in the aerospace industry peaked, but Dr. Aprille Joy Ericsson is someone I revered long before the trend.

This is why I support this woman's work.

Dr. Aprille Joy Ericsson received her Bachelor of Science from MIT and her master's and doctorate from Howard University. She was the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from HU. Now a capture manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Ericsson has over 25 years of experience in structural dynamics and controls of spacecraft missions.

She was the recipient of the 2002 Howard University College of Engineering, Architecture and Computer Sciences Alumni Excellence Award and the 1997 Women in Science and Engineering award for best female engineer.

Ericsson has been featured on the "NBC Nightly News" series "Women to Watch" and recorded in history books honoring African-American women in science.

1) When did you realize you wanted to be an engineer?

I realized that I wanted to become an engineer after attending the MIT UNITE (now called MITES) program my junior year of high school. I have always liked understanding how things worked — whether it was how a car drives or how a plant grows or how a bug flies.

2) You were the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard and also the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in engineering at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. How do you inspire others — especially African-Americans and women — to find that same love of science themselves?

Several other women at our facility have been inspired to get their Ph.D.s. In terms of science and engineering, I have said to them, "If you'd like the opportunity to work on solving problems that both interest you and have the most impact on the world, then getting a Ph.D. will afford you the respect and opportunities that are given that degree."

3) What does your current job entail?

My job requires great communication skills and technical expertise to create science instruments for spaceflight applications. I work with engineers, scientists, technologists and managers from Goddard, other government agencies, aerospace companies and universities.

4) What is your most defining moment in terms of success?

The most prestigious was the 2016 Washington Award from the Western Society of Engineers. I was the first person of color to ever receive the award. Please Google it to see the 100-year history and the prestigious list of previous awardees.

5) Where do you see space programs heading in the next five to 10 years? How do you aim to help?

We are all very excited about sending men and women to travel to and from Mars.

Every day, I feel challenged to empower our bright NASA engineers to deliver the cutting-edge technology that pushes the envelope of our technical worldwide capabilities in their respective fields. I travel a couple of times a month to communicate the cool technology and science missions that NASA GSFC works on with many different communities (industry, government, universities and schools). When exposing the youth to our NASA work, I relish in the opportunity to inspire the next generation of STEMologists.

Randi Zuckerberg is the founder of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a weekly business show on SiriusXM, "Dot Complicated." To find out more about Randi Zuckerberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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