Remarkable Women In Engineering

Wanda Austin

Wanda Austin is a heavily accomplished engineer whose career involves being the first woman and the first African-American to be president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation.  She was also the first woman and the first person of color to lead the University of Southern California as president. She also found success as business woman having co-founded MakingSpace, Inc., a systems engineering and leadership development consultant and motivational speaker.

Wanda was born in the Bronx, New York in 1954.  Her mother, a registered nurse and her father a barber shop owner always stressed extracurricular activities and inspired Wanda to commit to her education.  Her commitment and brilliance in math allowed her to skip eighth grade and obtain acceptance into the elite Bronx High School of Science.  She went on to Franklin and Marshall College where she graduated with her B.S. degree in mathematics in 1975, her M.S. in both mathematics and engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977, and her Ph.D in industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California in 1989.

Wanda Austin joined the Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo in 1979 and thrived. In the final eight years of her illustrious career, she ran the company — a nonprofit brain trust tasked with developing and overseeing the nation’s missiles and satellite systems as president and CEO.  Her reputation as a clear headed, empathetic leader helped get her selected by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council of Advisory on Science and Technology (PCAST) in 2015.  The PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President. In addition, Austin has also served as a member of NASA Advisory Council and U.S. Human Space Flight Plans. 

Most recently, Wanda was appointed interim president of the University of Southern California in 2018. The University created an endowed scholarship in her name in thanks and recognition of her leadership that began addressing the systemic issues within the University.
Further Reading at USC
Austin Wanda, Making space: Strategic leadership for a complex world.

Daniel Goodman, Find your path: Unconventional lessons from 36 leading scientists and engineers

The Black Collegian, Q&A with Dr. Wanda Austin

The HistoryMakers Digital Archives, (2011, April 25). Wanda Austin. The HistoryMakers.

The University of Southern California. (2018).  Wanda Austin.

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