By: Shreyoshi Chakraborti
Wanda M. Austin
Born in the Bronx, New York City in 1954, Wanda M Austin served as a former president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation and a leading architect for the nation’s national security space programs. She was both the first woman and the first African American to hold this position. She retired from the position on October 1, 2016. Today she serves as a consultant and a member of the Board of Directors of the company. Austin also served as an interim president for the University of Southern California. She continues to serve as the board of directors of the Space Foundation and Chevron Corporation and a member of the board of trustees for the University of Southern California and the National Geographic Society.
Austin graduated from Bronx High School, following her B.S in mathematics from Franklin and Marshall College. She obtained her Master’s in systems engineering and mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh. After completing her degree, she worked at Rockwell International before joining Aerospace Corporation in 1979. Her work in applied mathematics during master’s involved modeling traffic systems.
In Aerospace Corporation she worked in several projects involving satellite communications and defense. In 1988, she earned her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California working on Natural Language in Application of Systems Dynamics Modelling. She served as a senior vice president before becoming the CEO of the Aerospace Corporation. In 2015 she was elected by President Barack Obama to serve as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In 2009, she was elected as a member of NASA Advisory Council and U.S Human Space Flight Plans Committee.
In 2010 Austin was appointed to the Defense Science Board. She also became a member of the California Council of Science and Technology, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2016, Austin published a book called Making Space: Strategic Leadership for a Complex World.
She is the recipient of the National Intelligence Medallion for Meritorious service; the Air Force scroll of Achievement. In 2010, she received the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Braun Award of Excellence in Space Program Management. In 2012 she was awarded Horatio Alger Award, NDIA Peter B Teets Industry Award. She also received the USC Presidential Medal in 2018.