SAN FRANCISCO—Aerospace engineer Dr. Aprille Ericsson will be honored with the Washington Award today (Feb. 26). Ericsson has made significant contributions to the aerospace field and was also the first female, and the first black woman, to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University as well as the first black female to receive a Ph.D. in engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
Now in its 103rd year, the Washington Award “reminds us that our first president was an engineer” and recognizes engineers whose accomplishments have "pre-eminently promoted the happiness, comfort and well-being of humanity." Ericsson is the first woman of color to receive the award, said Chicagoland Engineers Week Steering Committee Chair Chris Burke.
“We try to reach out to all different types of people who have a variety of engineering accomplishments and we were very impressed with Aprille’s career,” Burke told EE Times, citing previous winners Bill Nye and Engineers Without Borders Founding President Bernard Amadei. “Her career path was very unique. She brings to [the Washington Award] perhaps a different focus.”
Ericsson has spent the majority of her 25 year career at GSFC in the engineering directorate, but has also worked at NASA headquarters as a program executive for the Earth Science Enterprise and a resource manager for the Space Science Enterprise.
Ericsson is the former deputy to the chief technologist for the Applied Engineering & Technology Directorate at GSFC. Her primary focus at NASA has been in advanced manufacturing, applied nanotechnology, and miniaturization of technology for CubeSat and SmallSat space platforms.
Over the course of her career, Ericsson has made significant contributions to the field of aerospace engineering as an project manager or engineer for various instruments, including the near-infrared spectrograph on the James Webb Space Telescope and the lunar orbiter laser altimeter that launched on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in April 2009. Ericsson also served as the deputy instrument project manager for ICESat-2’s sole instrument the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), a $480M lidar instrument that will observe ice-sheet elevation change, seaice freeboard, and vegetation canopy height.
Currently, Ericsson is the NASA GSFC program manager for Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR/STTR), which enables small businesses and small businesses collaborating with universities to compete for opportunities to solve selected R&D challenges faced by various government agencies within the United States.
Ericsson also serves on numerous boards and in community leadership positions, including the MIT Industry Advisory Council on Minority Education and the National Academy of Engineering Board on Higher Education and Workforce. Recently, she served as the chair of the board of directors for the HU Public Charter Middle School of Mathematics and Science and HU Trustee. She has been recognized as an outstanding technical leader, coach, mentor, and friend to young people.
Ericsson was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and educated in New York public schools before attending college at MIT, where she received her B.S. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. She received her masters of engineering and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Howard University (HU) with an aerospace option. She has also been a guest researcher at Harvard/Radcliffe University. In her spare time, Ericsson enjoys playing sports and coaches T-ball in the DC Banneker League.
As part of Engineers Week (Feb. 21-27), Ericsson will speak to 200 young children from the Chicago Public Schools system at the Adler Planetarium. Her talk will be broadcast across the country to other science classrooms.
“Hopefully there are other young men and women who will be inspired by Dr. Ericsson’s comments,” Burke said.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times