NASA engineer speaks

by Jake Kapsner

To keep abreast of the global technological community, the United States needs to encourage the development of a diverse body of scientists, Aprille Ericsson-Jackson said Friday.
And she should know.
As an aerospace engineer for NASA, Ericsson-Jackson does everything, from testing spacecraft designs with computer simulation to studying the evolution of the universe.
Considering the current shortage of scientists and engineers in America, she said, “we can’t expect it to be white male-dominated field.” Racial, ethnic and gender diversity is a must.
She spoke Friday in Akerman Hall about her research at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland; she highlighted internships, co-ops and fellowships NASA offers to engineering students.
Knowing that engineers are involved in space research appeals to the “trekkie side” of a person, said Marcus Drayton, a mechanical engineering graduate student, who joined a post-lecture reception for Ericsson-Jackson in Lind Hall.
“Most media attention goes to the astronauts, but they’re 1 percent of the problem. Engineers are involved in everything from the ground up,” he said. “It’s nice to see how engineers contribute to the space effort.”
But beyond working on spacecraft and the Big Bang Theory, Ericsson-Jackson visits schools around the world — in person and via the Internet — encouraging young people to chase their dreams.
Her motto: “Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll be in the stars.”
Ericsson-Jackson was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Howard University, one of many historically black universities and colleges in the Washington, D.C., area in which she’s taught and partnered up with NASA.
The engineer and educator went from growing up in a single-parent household in the projects of Brooklyn, N.Y., to being honored as the best female engineer in the federal government last year.
The lecture was the first in a series called “Models of Success” that introduces University students to minority scientists — “because there aren’t that many here,” said Samuel Moore.
Moore directs Academic Programs for Excellence in Engineering and Science, which sponsored the event along with the Department of Aerospace Engineering, the Graduate School Office of Equal Opportunity and the Minnesota Space Grant Consortium.
Moore said the lecture series aims to expose all students — not just minorities — to the contributions minority scientists are making in America.