Shirley Ann Jackson was born August 5, 1946, in Washington, D.C., and is an American physicist credited with making many advances in science.
Jackson attended Roosevelt Senior High School, graduating in 1964 as valedictorian. She enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study theoretical physics, graduating in 1968. She was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT and the second African-American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics.
Despite offers from Brown, the University of Chicago, and Harvard, Jackson stayed at MIT to encourage more African American students to attend the prestigious institution of higher learning.
During her Ph.D. Jackson worked on elementary particle theory under the direction of James Young, the first African American tenured full professor in MIT’s physics department.
Jackson’s area of interest in physics was subatomic particles found within atoms, the tiny units of which all matter is made.
Shirley Ann Jackson joined the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1976, where she studied materials to be used in the semiconductor industry and progressed through several departments, including the Scattering and Low Energy Physics Research Department in 1978 and the Solid State and Quantum Physics Research Department in 1988.
Her experiments in theoretical physics and breakthrough advances in telecommunications enabled others to invent many vital devices, such as the touch-tone telephone, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller I.D.
Jackson went to the faculty at Rutgers University between 1991 and 1995 while consulting with Bell Labs on semiconductor theory.
In 1995 she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), making her the first woman (and the first African American) to hold that position.
She assisted with the establishment of the International Nuclear Regulators Association from 1997 to 1999.
In 1999, Shirley Ann Jackson became the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the first woman and first African American to hold this position.
She transformed the Institute through a strategic plan known as the Rensselaer Plan to revolutionize the department in many areas.
The plan, which is still in action today, included constructing an Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center and the East Campus Athletic Village.
Jackson has also been one of the country’s highest-paid university presidents, but she will be stepping down from her post as President on July 1, 2022.
Her achievements, not just as a black person but as a woman, are just too numerous to note.
Dr. Jackson’s work at MIT to use her role to help more African American students makes her a key figure in black history that has earned her accolades!