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Dr. Shirley Jackson is why we answer and ignore phone calls

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Dr. Shirley Jackson is why we answer and ignore phone calls
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Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson was born August 5, 1946, in Washington, D.C., and attended Roosevelt Senior High School. After graduation in 1964, she enrolled at MIT to study theoretical physics, earning her B.S. degree in 1968.

Near the end of her senior year, in April 1968, Jackson drove back from a graduate school visit when she found out Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed in Memphis. This would alter her mindset and set her on a path to change things in her own world.

“I thought about how quiet I’ve been as an undergrad. And I felt there was something that I needed to do and should do at MIT to get more African American and minority students in and to become more hospitable for such students. And so in the end, I decided to stay at MIT,” Jackson told ABC News.

Taking action, Jackson co-founded the school’s Black Student Union, which was instrumental in starting Project Interphase, which is a summer program designed to help transition new students into life at MIT.

“At MIT, it wasn’t always friendly,” she told ABC News. “If I sat at a table alone, no one else would come and join many times, but if I went and joined the table, then people would suddenly be finishing up their meals…and so in that sense, it was very isolating.”

Realizing her purpose was bigger than others feelings toward her, Jackson elected to stay at MIT for her doctoral work, and received her Ph.D. degree in nuclear physics in 1973. As the first Black woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, she would later use her know-how to research telecommunications while working at the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T.

During her time there, Dr. Jackson made scientific history which paved the way for others to invent the fax machine, touch-tone phone, fiber optic cells, solar cells and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson presents research at AT&T Bell Laboratories in an undated photo.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Since then, she had served as the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, as the first woman and first African American to hold the position.

Dr. Shirley Jackson has been getting her flowers since the 90s.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, making her both the first woman and the first African-American to ever occupy the role.

In 1999, Dr. Jackson was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, recognized for “her significant contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for education, science and public policy.”

Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In 2014, Dr. Jackson was presented with the National Medal of Honor, which is the highest honor for scientific achievement bestowed by the U.S. government. Jackson received the medal on May 19, 2016, in a special ceremony at the White House where she was presented the award by President Barack Obama.

“I knew when I looked around, there weren’t very many African Americans when I was an undergrad, and especially as a graduate,” Dr. Jackson said. She added that doing the best work she could in her own career could help guide others.

Dr. Jackson stepped down from her post as President on July 1, 2022 and officially retired after fulfilling her life’s purpose of connecting people near and far.

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