The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Gwendolyn E. Boyd

Mechanical engineer and civic leader Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd was born on December 27, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama to Dora McClain. Boyd’s mother passed away when Boyd was thirteen years old, and her godmother, Emzella Mapson, raised her. Boyd's teachers, at the all-black McDavid Elementary School, nurtured her love of math from a young age. Boyd was one of five black students to integrate Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. In high school. she helped establish a student interracial council, was a member of the math honor society, and performed choir before graduating as valedictorian in 1973. Boyd attended the historically black Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama on a scholarship, graduating summa cum laude with her B.S. degree in mathematics and minors in music and physics in 1977. She received a fellowship to attend Yale University's School of Engineering in New Haven, Connecticut, becoming the school's first African American woman to receive an M.S. degree in mechanical engineering in 1979.

Following her graduation, Boyd worked briefly as an engineer at IBM in Kingston, New York. In 1980, she was offered a position as a submarine navigation systems analyst at the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University. Boyd was later appointed to high-level administrative positions, first as the assistant for development programs in 1998 and then the as executive assistant to the chief of staff in 2004.

Boyd has been an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., rising through the ranks of the sorority's leadership since joining as a student at Alabama State. In 2000, Boyd was elected for a four-year term as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Boyd also serves on the board of directors of Leadership Greater Washington, the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Bennett College and the National Partnership for Community Leadership. She is a member of The Links, Inc., the National Council of Negro Women and Ebenezer A.M.E Church in Fort Washington, Maryland where she serves on the ministerial staff. In 2007, Boyd received her M.Div. degree at Howard University and is an ordained itinerant elder in the A.M.E. Church. She has also received honorary doctorates from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Bennett College in North Carolina. In 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Boyd to the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Gwendolyn E. Boyd was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 25, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.161

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/25/2007

Last Name

Boyd

Maker Category
Middle Name

E.

Schools

McDavid Elementary School

Jefferson Davis High School

Alabama State University

Yale University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Gwendolyn

Birth City, State, Country

Montgomery

HM ID

BOY02

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Africa

Favorite Quote

The Lord Is My Light And My Salvation. Whom Shall I Fear?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Alabama

Birth Date

12/27/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Montgomery

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken, Collard Greens

Short Description

Civic leader and mechanical engineer Gwendolyn E. Boyd (1955 - ) was the first African American woman to receive her M.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University. In 2000, she was elected national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Boyd became the president of Alabama State University in 2014.

Employment

International Business Machines Corporation

Johns Hopkins University. Applied Physics Laboratory.

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:3500,16:4716,39:7452,94:12620,195:14900,239:15432,247:16724,270:17256,278:17712,285:20904,337:21436,346:21968,354:22500,366:22956,373:23716,385:30150,412:30940,425:32283,452:32678,458:33942,474:34890,487:37892,523:38208,560:38998,571:42711,636:46503,699:47135,722:49505,764:58930,836:59270,841:59695,847:61565,880:74066,1060:74885,1070:80955,1119:81550,1127:82060,1134:83675,1160:84270,1169:86565,1206:88860,1244:92198,1267:92494,1272:94640,1308:95602,1325:96638,1350:97156,1358:97452,1363:97748,1368:100042,1394:101300,1415:110880,1522:113890,1590:114730,1604:116620,1636:116900,1641:119980,1696:122780,1752:123200,1759:123690,1782:126980,1832:129570,1885:130060,1893:140600,1956:141880,1976:144912,2004:147096,2046:147486,2052:148188,2063:148500,2068:157750,2208:160504,2267:164311,2331:164635,2336:164959,2341:168442,2399:168928,2407:170548,2437:171034,2445:171439,2451:172087,2461:173140,2479:179296,2565:188882,2612:192236,2665:198372,2736:199308,2756:200010,2770:200400,2776:202896,2818:209472,2893:218493,3038:219237,3047:225840,3137:229095,3193:243916,3368:248130,3456:252736,3516:257480,3527:257720,3532:258080,3539:263475,3624:264276,3636:265344,3650:270854,3720:271340,3728:277334,3839:279278,3874:287030,3933:290267,3987:291014,3998:292093,4013:292923,4026:293421,4035:300366,4117:302070,4153:302638,4162:303419,4183:306250,4206$0,0:735,3:1163,8:1912,16:4435,23:4839,35:10394,86:11101,95:11707,102:13121,121:14939,144:15343,158:15747,163:16151,168:16858,176:22290,203:24840,261:25740,275:27165,324:27840,335:28365,344:31440,411:31890,419:32265,426:33165,441:40920,458:41886,466:42852,474:48150,506:48890,514:49482,523:51036,551:51332,556:52220,571:52960,583:59028,667:63960,709:64260,715:64710,722:68668,758:71048,796:71388,802:72884,830:75520,847:79390,904:80380,914:81460,931:81910,938:84700,982:85420,992:86500,1006:88840,1047:89920,1063:90730,1073:96760,1178:97390,1187:104440,1192:108700,1282:113812,1323:115990,1351:116386,1356:117475,1370:120883,1396:124231,1440:128842,1487:129222,1493:130590,1523:131426,1549:131806,1555:141914,1783:148830,1928:156060,1942:156558,1949:161123,2033:161538,2039:167431,2170:167763,2175:168261,2183:168842,2192:170834,2221:174584,2227:175102,2235:175620,2244:176138,2252:176656,2260:178432,2289:178802,2295:179394,2310:183464,2417:184278,2431:188065,2445:188585,2456:191965,2524:192355,2532:192615,2537:204470,2683:206390,2713:206950,2721:208310,2741:208630,2746:209030,2752:209350,2757:211050,2763
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gwendolyn Boyd's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gwendolyn Boyd lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her upbringing and the role of God in her life

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gwendolyn Boyd remembers her mother's death and her last words to her

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about not knowing her father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her elementary school experience

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about growing up in the Tulane Courts projects of Montgomery, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her childhood friends and her interest in math

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gwendolyn Boyd describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about overcoming her hardships and being independent from an early age

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her experience in junior high school during integration

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her role on an integrated council with black and white students at Jefferson Davis High School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about protesting the song "Dixie"

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about the social and political activities during the 1950s and 1960s and their influence

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her decision to attend Alabama State University

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her transition to Alabama State University and her community activities

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her interest in math, and about being recruited to pursue her graduate studies in engineering at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about being accepted into Yale University's School of Engineering

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about transitioning from Alabama to Connecticut, finding Varick AME Church, and funding her education

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her experience at Yale University's School of Engineering

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her experience working at IBM, and her decision to leave IBM and join Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her experience at Johns Hopkins University and her experience in submarine school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about becoming the president of the Washington, D.C. chapter and the millennial president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her leadership initiatives in South Africa as the president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her leadership initiatives as the president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about the Project SEE initiative

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about the mission of the Delta Homeownership Initiative for Financial Fortitude program

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about the Leadership Delta program

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her faith and her admiration of HistoryMaker Bishop Vashti McKenzie, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her faith and her admiration of HistoryMaker Bishop Vashti McKenzie, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her board appointments with Leadership Washington, the Children's National Medical Center, and United Way

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about the National Partnership for Community Leadership, The Links, Inc., and her other professional affiliations

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her faith in God

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Gwendolyn Boyd shares her message to future generations

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gwendolyn Boyd describes her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

9$4

DATitle
Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her interest in math, and about being recruited to pursue her graduate studies in engineering at Yale University
Gwendolyn Boyd talks about her experience working at IBM, and her decision to leave IBM and join Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory
Transcript
So did you know what you were going to become or what you would do?$$I didn't know what I was going to become but whatever it was, I knew it had to involve math.$$Okay.$$I just knew it had to be something that involved math, that involved problem solving, that involved putting things together. Again, it goes back to my love of sewing, which is putting pieces of a puzzle together to make a garment, my love of music, which involved, you know, notes, which have, you know, mathematical connotations to them. So everything that I did, not knowing it then, but everything that God ordained for me had mathematical background in it. So I knew whatever career I wanted, it had to involve math. Alabama State [University] was traditionally and still is, traditionally known as a teachers' college. It was founded as a teachers' college. So just about everybody who came through there became a teacher. That's what, that's what you went there for. But somewhere in my spirit, the Lord said, no, I don't think you're gonna be a teacher, didn't know what, but I knew something that had to do with math. So as I matriculated I started taking Physics, and really loved Physics, which, you know, combined my love of math and problem solving to real-life situations. We did not have Physics, as a major. We had it as a minor at Alabama State. So I took all the courses that were available to me for, as a Physics minor. I was also a Music minor. Again, my love of music, but knowing in my mind or telling myself in my mind I did not have the talent that would take me to the Metropolitan Opera, and I wanted to eat every day. So I wanted to stick with something that would put food on the table. So I was a music minor. I had to do two recitals and all the other things that, you know, were a part of that discipline. But somewhere towards my junior, the latter part of my junior year, I started talking with my advisor and he said to me, "You need to start thinking about going to grad school". And I said, "To do what?", you know, and he said, well, just start looking at some things and start reading, you know, look at some ways you can use your talent and your skill. And I just started reading about engineering, never met an engineer in my life. No engineers were on our campus, so I had no point of reference as to what, you know, to talk with someone. But in reading about what engineers did, I said, this is what I want to do. I wanna be able to solve problems, using my math and using my physics and solve world-life problems. This is what I wanna do. And so as my senior year approached, I took the GRE and did well on that and then I started applying to graduate school. And my advisor said, you know, just apply to a broad number of schools and the --I said, well, I don't have any engineering as an undergraduate. What will happen if I apply, you know, for graduate school for engineering without an engineering undergraduate major? And he said, well, let's just try it and see, and so I did. And so I applied for grad school and had actually been accepted at the University of Illinois and had talked to the dean there and was, you know, ready, had my apartment all set, getting ready to graduate, and graduated top of my class at Alabama State. So, and then I got this phone call from Yale [University]. I have to be perfectly honest. I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke on me (laughter). They said, this is, you know, Dr. Aptful (ph.) from Yale University. And I said, yeah, right. Okay, and we understand that you're interested in pursuing graduate work in engineering. I said, yes. Well, we'd like to offer you a fellowship to come to Yale. And I said, okay, who is this? (Laughter). He says, no, this is actually, you know, I'm the associate professor, you know, here in the School of Engineering, and we'd like to talk to you about applying to Yale because, of course, I had not applied, applying and coming here as--and being a part of our graduate program. So without an application or anything, he said, if you're willing to come, yeah, if you have them send us your transcript, and we'll work through the details. And I was accepted into Yale's graduate school for engineering.$So what happens next?$$Well, I now have to get a job (laughter). And needless to say, having a degree from Yale opened a number of doors, doors that I didn't even know existed before, and companies were calling me and saying, we wanna, you know, we want you to California to work for such and such, and, you know, and I was flying all over the place. This was wonderful. I said, this is nice, you know, but you have to make a decision to go somewhere. And I started working with IBM in Kingston, New York, another shocking transition (laughter). Now, I've learned how to live in New Haven [Connecticut], which is, you know, Metropolitan kind of a city. Kingston, New York is in the Catskills. It's where, you know, people kind of go for meditative--there is nothing in Kingston except IBM. And I think even now they've closed the plant there. So, again, I'm in an environment where I am the only African American, female, and, you have a sense of, this is why they've hired me. But there was absolutely no fulfillment in the assignment that I was given. IBM is a wonderful company, and I don't want to disparage it in any way, but I, the assignment that I was given was not one that was very enlightening, encouraging, whatever word you wanna use for it.$$What was the assignment?$$Actually, nothing. I was to read through some manuals and comment on some pieces, but I wanted to do engineering, didn't really want to read manuals and give comments and so I became impatient and said, I don't think I'm going to be able to stay here. And so some of those people who I had flown on the planes with and, you know, done interviews with, before I decided to come with IBM, I called them back, and said, "Remember me?" (Laughter) And that's when my godmother's advice of "Don't burn your bridges and be careful how you treat people and how you talk to people". They said, oh, yes, yes, we remember you very well. And so, I said, I'm interested in coming back or, you know, at least talking with you again about an opportunity. And one of those opportunities was at Johns Hopkins at the Applied Physics Laboratory. And the gentleman who had interviewed you said, oh, we would just love to have you here. We can't offer you IBM money because that was another mistake that I made and which I tell young people all the time. I know that this, in this environment, in this society we live in, everybody goes for the money. But going for the money in that case was a mistake for me. I should have gone with the kind of assignment, the kind of work that I really wanted to do. So he said, we can't offer you IBM money, but we can offer you a great job and a great assignment. And so, in 1980, I came to Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and I've been there ever since.