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Yvonne Clark

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Yvonne Clark

Yvonne Clark was born in Houston, Texas in 1925, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father was a surgeon, her mother a journalist and librarian. As a high school student, she enrolled in a co-ed aeronautics class, where she built and tested model planes, and participated in the school´s Civil Air Patrol, which included access to a flight simulator. Nonetheless, not all doors were open to women-she was prohibited from taking a mechanical drawing class at the same school because of her sex. Clark graduated high school at just sixteen, and spent the next two years studying and living with family friends in Boston until she was old enough to enroll in college. Barred from the segregated University of Louisville, she instead received a full scholarship from the state to attend Howard University, where she was the only female majoring in mechanical engineering.

After graduating with a B.S. in 1951, she found the job market less than hospitable to both women and African-Americans. Following months of searching, she was able to secure a job at the Frankford Arsenal-Gage Laboratories in Philadelphia, followed by a position at RCA in New Jersey. In 1955, Clark got married, left RCA, and moved with her new husband to Nashville, Tennessee, where she eventually took a teaching job with Tennessee State University´s College of Engineering and Technology, having once again been faced with a dearth of industry jobs open to black women. After serving as head of the mechanical engineering department from 1965-1970, she took two years off to pursue a master´s degree in engineering management at Vanderbilt University. During her summers, she began to work in the field of space science, working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on its Saturn 5 project. She also spent a summer at NASA´s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, helping to develop techniques for returning moon samples to earth.

Recently, Clark received a grant from the Department of Energy to lead a team of scientists on a research project for improving refrigeration. She has also served as the student division team leader for the NASA-funded Center for Automated Space Science at Tennessee State University (TSU), where she continues to teach today. Her prolific career has included a number of awards and honors, including recognition from Howard University for outstanding achievement in engineering, and for leadership and distinguished service by the Society of Women Engineers. In the nearly forty years she has spent at TSU, the number of women in the engineering fields at the University has risen from only herself in the mid-1950´s, to approximately one in four today, an increase that is surely due in part to her example.

Work Cited:

Warren, Wini. Black Women Scientists in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.