The Barrier Breaker: A Physicist, Teacher, and Leader
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, a theoretical physicist, is the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She has also served in government as chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
The first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, and only the second African American woman to obtain a PhD in physics in the entire country, Jackson is a well-respected scientist and passionate advocate for students of color in the sciences. In 2014, President Obama awarded Jackson the National Medal of Science, the country’s highest honor for scientific achievement.
There were certainly those who were not ready to see a woman of color be successful, but I was always raised on a principle of achieving personal excellence and also if one has the health and ability to help others, then one should.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Building a Trusted Future
Dr. Jackson’s research at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories helped lay the groundwork for the development of transformative communications, including caller ID, Call Waiting, the portable fax machine, touch-tone telephones, fiber-optic cables, and solar cells.
In an age of fraudsters and telemarketers, millions of Americans trust the caller ID technology that Jackson made possible to help them screen unwanted phone calls.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton appointed Jackson to serve as Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency charged with regulating nuclear energy to protect public health and safety from 1995-1999. In that role, Jackson spearheaded efforts to improve nuclear safety internationally, including by working with newly independent Ukraine to address radiation levels that were still high ten years after the Chernobyl disaster.
[Online video conferencing] technology is a tremendous opportunity, and it’s very important that people understand that what seems so new today, is built on a backbone of knowledge generated over decades. It can be used for great good, but can be equally used for great harm. I hope that people can recognize if we all walk in the same direction, listen to each other, and work for a common goal, then that will ultimately lead to the best outcome for everyone.