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Female Firsts banner

Meet Aprille Ericsson, Ph.D., first (African American) female to
receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University

photo of aprille ericsson jackson


Aprille was born the oldest of four daughters in Brooklyn, NY. She spent her childhood growing up in the Bedford Styvesant neighborhood, specifically, the Roosevelt projects on Dekalb Avenue. She was bussed to the elementary school, P.S. 199 in Brooklyn. She first realized she had an aptitude for mathematics and science during her attendance of Marine Park JHS where she was the only black student enrolled in the Special Progress program. In her senior year of JHS, she won second place in the Science Fair and scored in the 90s on all her regent and citywide exams. She graduated with high honors and was a member of the school band, the girls basketball team, the science club and the honors club. She passed the exams for all of New York's Technical High Schools: the Bronx School of Science, Styvesant and Brooklyn Technical.

At the age of 15 years, she moved to Cambridge, MA to live with her grandparents and attended high school at the Cambridge School of Weston. She played basketball and softball in high school and in the Cambridge Recreation Leagues. During her senior year of high school, she was a volunteer Physical Education Teacher for several Cambridge elementary schools. Today she still enjoys playing football, basketball, softball, cycling and tennis. Her coed softball team travels around the country playing.

After graduating from high school with honors she entered college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she received her Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering. During her undergraduate years at MIT she was involved with several projects that were geared toward manned space flight. These projects involved working with:

  1. the Applied Physics Laboratory -developing a fiber optic laser gyroscope.
  2. the Space Systems Laboratory - creating a database for EVA neutral buoyancy data calculated at NASA Johnson Space Center.
  3. Senior Project - Manned Mars Mission crew systems specialist for an interplanetary vehicle.
These projects generated a strong desire to participate in manned space missions. She felt one way to do this would be to become an astronaut, and she applied for NASA's astronaut program. She has been placed on a medical review for asthma and knee surgery.

Upon completion of her education at MIT, she was encouraged by her best friend to attend Howard University (HU) in Washington, D.C. There she obtained a Masters of Engineering and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace option. Her research objective at HU has been to develop practical design procedures that can be used in conjunction with optimal digital controllers for future orbiting large space structure systems like the Space Station. Her research at HU has allowed her to travel to Germany, Canada and England to present technical papers. She has won several student paper competitions; the last and most prestigious one was at the 6th International Space Conference for Pacific-Basin Societies were she won first place for the Ph.D. student competition.

Currently, she is working full time as an aerospace engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in the Guidance, Navigation and Control, Design Analysis section. Presently, she is working on a MIDEX project called MAP-Microwave Anisotropy Probe.

To help spur the interest of minorities and female in the math, science and engineering disciplines, Aprille is a member of the NASA GSFC Speakers Bureau. In this capacity she has been an Aerospace/Rocketry/Mechanical Engineering Professor, Computer Instructor, Career Advisor, Mentor and Friend. As she says, "I feel it is important to create an early mathematical and/or scientific interest in young people and maintain it throughout their later years; therefore, I work with all age groups: Elementary, JHS, HS, and College." She has also created an e-mail pipeline for under-represented groups in the technology fields to distribute the announcements for federal grants and employment. As a proposal and application reviewer for NASA GSFC and Headquarters programs, she tries to ensure that there is a fair review of all applicants.

In 1996 and 1997 she was acknowledged by the National Technical Association for being amongst the Top 50 minority women in Science and Engineering. In May of 1997 she received the Women in Science and Engineering award for being the best female in the Federal Government in 1998. In February of that year she received a Special Recognition Award at the Black Engineers Award Conference.

She says, "I am proud to be the first (African American) female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from HU; the first American to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, the Aerospace option, from HU; and the first African American female to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA GSFC."

Archived QuestChats with Aprille Ericsson

For more Women of NASA information on Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, Ph.D. see her online profile at the Women of NASA website

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