Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson was born in Washington, D. C., on August 5, 1946, and grew up in the city's northwest district. Early on, she showed a gift for science and was encouraged by both her parents who believed strongly in education. She was a straight-A student at Roosevelt High School and valedictorian of her Class of 1964.
In 1964 she was one of 45 women and a handful of African Americans in her 900-member freshman class at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was a lonely time for Jackson who had to study alone since many white students refused to work with her. Rising above, Jackson delved more and more into the scientific world she loved. She thrived academically and upon her graduation in 1968, she was offered fellowship support to stay on for her Ph.D. in physics. She was the first black woman to receive an advanced degree from MIT in 1973.
From graduate school, she moved on to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1991 she became a professor of physics at Rutgers University. In 1995, President Clinton appointed Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), becoming the first woman and first African American to hold that position.
On July 1, 1999, Dr. Jackson became the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Currently Dr. Jackson is serving as a member of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, an advisory group of the nation's leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President.
This entry is part of MPL's National Women's History Month.