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Wanda Austin

Aeronautical engineer and academic administrator Wanda Austin was born on September 8, 1954 in New York, New York to Helen McCallum Lewis Pompey and Murry Pompey. She graduated from The Bronx High School of Science in 1971, and received a scholarship to attend Franklin and Marshall College, where she earned her B.S. degree in mathematics in 1975. She later received her M.S. degree in systems engineering and mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh in 1977, and her Ph.D. degree in systems engineering from the University of Southern California in 1988.

In 1977, Austin accepted a position at Rockwell International in California working with missile systems. Two years later, she joined The Aerospace Corporation, where she served as a member of the technical staff for seventeen years. In 1996, she was promoted to general manager of the electronic systems division, and was then named general manager of the Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) Division. After three years, she became senior vice president of the engineering and technology group; and, in 2004, Austin became senior vice president of the national system group based in Chantilly, Virginia. In 2008, she was transferred back to California and was named the first female and first African American CEO of The Aerospace Corporation. For eight years, Austin led the organization’s 3,600 employees and managed annual revenues of $950 million at seventeen offices nationwide. Austin retired from her position in 2016, and published her book Making Space: Strategic Leadership for a Complex World. Two years later, Austin was named the first African American female interim president of the University of Southern California.

Austin received numerous awards including the Women of the Year award and the Robert H. Herndon Black Image Award from The Aerospace Group. In 2002, she was named a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Austin was also inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2007, and received the Black Engineer of the Year Award in 2009. The following year, Austin received the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management. She was later honored with the Horatio Alger Award and the NDIA Peter B. Teets Industry Award in 2012, and was awarded the USC Presidential Medallion in 2018.

In addition to these honors, Austin was selected to serve on President Obama’s Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009, and the Defense Science Board in 2010. That same year, she was elected to the USC Board of Trustees. In 2014, Austin was appointed to the NASA Advisory Council; and, the following year, was appointed to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Austin also serves on the board of directors for Chevron and Amgen.

Austin and her husband, Wade Austin, Jr., have two adult sons.

Wanda Austin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 25, 2011 and February 5, 2019.

Accession Number

A2011.035

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/25/2011

4/25/2011 |and| 2/5/2019

Last Name

Austin

Marital Status

Married

Schools

Bronx High School of Science

Franklin & Marshall College

University of Pittsburgh

University of Southern California

P.S. 132 Garrett A Morgan School

Paul Hoffman Junior High School

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Depends on Schedule

First Name

Wanda

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

AUS03

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Any

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

East Coast of the United States or Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Continued Success.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

9/8/1954

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweet Potato Pie

Short Description

Aeronautical engineer and academic administrator Wanda Austin (1954 - ) served for eight years as president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation and was named the first African American female interim president of the University of Southern California in 2018.

Employment

Rockwell International

Aerospace Corp.

University of Southern California

Nerospace Corp.

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Teal

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Wanda Austin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Wanda Austin lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Wanda Austin describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Wanda Austin describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Wanda Austin talks about her parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Wanda Austin shares memories of growing up in the Claremont Projects in the Bronx

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Wanda Austin describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Wanda Austin talks about her elementary school experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Wanda Austin remembers her extracurricular activities as a youth

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Wanda Austin talks about attending a predominantly Jewish elementary school

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Wanda Austin recalls the encouragement from her elementary school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Wanda Austin shares her experiences at Bronx High School of Science - part one

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Wanda Austin shares her experiences at Bronx High School of Science - part two

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Wanda Austin recalls learning of the events of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Wanda Austin describes her favorite teachers and her college aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Wanda Austin recalls her experiences at Franklin and Marshall College

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Wanda Austin discusses her decision to pursue mathematics in college

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Wanda Austin talks about her graduate studies in engineering at the University of Pittsburgh

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Wanda Austin discusses her master's thesis at the University of Pittsburgh

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Wanda Austin talks about her work at Rockwell International

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Wanda Austin recalls her move to Aerospace Corporation from Rockwell International

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Wanda Austin discusses the mission of Aerospace Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Wanda Austin shares her initial experiences at Aerospace Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Wanda Austin discusses her career path at Aerospace Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Wanda Austin talks about meeting her husband, Wade Austin

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Wanda Austin describes her Ph.D. thesis from the University of Southern California

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Wanda Austin talks about Aerospace Corporation's military applications

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Wanda Austin talks about the issues of space debris

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Wanda Austin talks about the impact of the Cold War on science and technology

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Wanda Austin talks about global access to space technology

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Wanda Austin talks about space technology and security concerns in the post-9/11 world - part one

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Wanda Austin discusses her advancement within the Aerospace Corporation to senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology Group

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Wanda Austin talks about science as "color-blind"

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Wanda Austin talks about space technology and security concerns in the post-9/11 world - part two

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Wanda Austin describes her role in the National Systems Group

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Wanda Austin shares her thoughts on the future of space technology and the Aerospace Corporation

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Wanda Austin reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Wanda Austin talks about the future of the United States' programs in space

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Wanda Austin wishes she would have had more role models as a youth

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Wanda Austin shares her parents' thoughts on her success

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Wanda Austin describes balancing her personal and professional life

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Wanda Austin talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Wanda Austin talks about how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

1$10

DATitle
Wanda Austin shares her experiences at Bronx High School of Science - part one
Wanda Austin talks about the impact of the Cold War on science and technology
Transcript
Okay so as you said you were, you were in a special program that allowed you to skip a couple of--$$Skip one grade, skip the eighth grade it was--out of this school in the Jewish neighborhood you were tested and that was the decision about you know, sort of where you went to high--junior high school and what program you were put in. So I tested well in math and English, and so they talked to my parents [Murry and Helen McCallum Lewis Pompey] about being in this special program, which would allow me to do my three years of junior high school in two years. So I did seventh grade and I did ninth grade. And it was a class of students. So we were together for those two years. You didn't, you know change any students, you didn't--you had all of your classes with that group of about twenty-five people for two years.$$Now what was the name of the junior high school?$$Hoffman, Paul Hoffman Junior High School [New York, New York].$$Okay Paul Hoffman, H-O-F-F-M-A-N?$$M-A-N, correct.$$All right. Okay.$$Also in another white neighborhood.$$Okay, was this a Jewish white neighborhood as well?$$Uh-huh.$$Okay.$$So if you know anything about New York, you know there's a Glen Concourse, there's Fordham Road and the elementary school was at one end of Fordham Road, junior high school was the other end.$$Okay. Now so when you started high school--we have a note here that you were thirteen when you started high school, or was it that young?$$Well I graduated high school--$$Yeah, yeah you would have started high school (unclear).$$--before I was sixteen, yeah.$$Yeah, that would be thirteen, that's right.$$Yeah. That's why I'm twenty-nine now.$$(Laughs). Right. So you started high school in 1967, is that correct?$$Okay, I graduated from high school in '71 [1971], after--$$Yeah that sounds about right.$$So that sounds about right, mm-hmm.$$Right, okay now you went to Bronx High School of Science [New York, New York]. Now what is, is that a special high school?$$So that was a special high school. So you're on the special program in getting in high school, accelerated program. But very solid in math and science. Then, in New York City they have two schools which are competitive across the entire city. You take an exam. But it was public and it was free. If you got in, you got to go. So I took the exam and got to go to Bronx Science.$$Okay now we--I read a story when I was reading this material--$$Mm-hmm.$$About an argument you had with a literature teacher.$$I don't know how you knew that, but okay, uh-huh.$$Yeah, and well I don't know, somebody in the office is really sharp and they put it in the folder so I read it. It was about the--some literary story where she told you your interpretation was wrong?$$Absolutely.$$But it's a matter of opinion, so--$$Absolutely.$$So go on and tell us--so tell us what happened.$$Well it was a English Literature class. And I remember the teacher, I mean I can see her as clearly as I can see you. And she had a, a rather large sense of self, you know. She knew everything, you know nothing was kind of the message I got. I don't know--I don't know if all the students had that sense. But I certainly had that sense from her. And so it was a book that we'd read and she said well what do you think that means? And I told her what I thought it meant. She says, oh no that, you know that's wrong. You know obviously this foreshadows this, and you know the trees mean life and you know the water means this, and you know and I looked at her and I said, how do you know? You know, that didn't go over so well. But it was a defining moment in my life because it caused me to say you know, math is not easy for me. But I know that when I you know study hard and I work the problem and I can show my work, that without any question, people will say okay you got that right. It's not open for debate. So either I earned it or I didn't. And it is what caused me to pursue mathematics in college.$$Okay, all right. So had you considered pursuing some other--$$I didn't know at that point. I took French and I enjoyed that. I, you know I was obviously you know pretty well read because as I said, I enjoyed reading. But that experience taught me something, or did something to me on the inside to say, you know, I need to be on firm ground. So when I say I know something, that no kidding, I know it.$$So this is an advanced literature class I imagine by the kind of discussion going on$$Mm-hmm.$Okay, all right. Now in--it says at some point now you become, well how did--let me ask you this before move on to the rest of your career. How did the end of the Cold War change what you, or has it changed what, what you all are doing?$$I think it has had a significant impact on our business. During the Cold War we had you know one major enemy [Soviet Union] if you will, adversary that was competitive with the U.S. [United States] in terms of capability. And so all of the systems were designed to provide insight into what was going on in Russia. After the end of the Cold War, you know people talk about the peace dividend and that we ought to be able to eliminate a lot of the costs associated with the military. But what I think we've failed to recognize is that there are a lot of other nations that were working very hard to become competitive and capable in space as well. And so what has happened over time is that instead of having a single country or target that you were focused on, now there are lots of actors that have some capability in space, or who have an opportunity to disrupt our capability in space. So we've gone through a period where there was a fairly significant reduction in budgets for defense and space. And now we're recognizing that the challenge of how do you continue to provide the capability that we're so dependent on. We're really proud of the fact that when we go to war, there's rarely little loss of life because of the precision that's allowed by GPS [Global Positioning System]. You know today you say I want to put a bomb in that window on that building, you know on the other side of the world. And our military is able to do that to a great extent because of space capability. (Coughs). Excuse me. So there was the Cold War benefit if you will, where we were able to have a decline in spending. But then today is the struggle of you know you've got Afghanistan [War in Afghanistan], you've got Iraq [Iraq War], you've got Libya, you've got a tsunami in Japan [2001], you've got all kinds of things going on that you'd like to have visibility on.