A Nigerian woman, Wendy Okolo, has made history after becoming the first black woman to bag a doctorate in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, USA. Wendy Okolo was only 26 when she attained this enviable feat and joins the league of very few black women with a PhD in Aerospace Engineering worldwide.
She hails from southeast Nigeria and was born into a family of six. Wendy Okolo identifies her sisters as heroes; Jennifer and Phyllis tutored her in biology and other science subjects.
At the University of Texas, Arlington, Wendy Okolo bagged her first degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2010 and a Master’s in 2015. During her undergraduate years, she served as president of the society of women engineers at the university.
In March 2022, The Guardian Nigerian reported that Leading Ladies Africa, in partnership with YNaija, listed Dr Wendy Okolo as part of 100 Most inspiring women in Nigeria.
Okolo was trained at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the US agency responsible for the civilian space program, and aerospace research. She interned for two summers with Lockheed Martin, working on NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
To gain more experience as a graduate student, Okolo worked as a summer researcher from 2010 to 2012 in the Control Design & Analysis Branch at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Also, she worked with the team that flew the world’s fastest manned aircraft, which flew from coast to coast in 67 minutes (usually, this takes over five hours for some of the fastest jets around).
Wendy Okolo revealed she battled impostor’s syndrome after discovering she would work with such a great team.
“I was like I am sure these guys are so smart; what am I going to bring in,” she said. However, she fixed an error in the code in the systems, which gave her confidence going forward.
In 2019, she was awarded the most promising engineer in the United States government after winning the BEYA Global Competitiveness Conference award.
Wendy Okolo, now 30, is an aerospace engineering researcher at the NASA Ames Research Centre in California’s Silicon Valley. She leads the control team working on the System-Wide Safety (SWS) project and a Space Technology Mission Directorate Early Career Initiative (STMD-ECI) project.
Wendy Okolo encourages young girls to pursue their dreams in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
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