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Peggy Yohner: NASA Lewis’ First Woman Division Chief

Peggy Yohner at desk.
Peggy Yohner became the first woman executive at NASA Lewis Research Center (now Glenn) in the 1980s.

In 1985, Peggy Yohner was promoted to chief of the Computer Services Division, becoming Lewis Research Center’s (now Glenn) first woman senior executive. The 220-person division included ten branches that maintained the center’s entire institutional computing capability.

It had been a long journey, but Yohner steadily advanced her career by continually increasing her skills, mastering the evolving technology and developing an engaging leadership style. “You can’t sit back and wait for things to happen,” she related in 1989. “You have to go out and work for it.”

Not long after graduating with a dual math and chemistry degree from Ohio State University in 1948, Yohner was hired to work in the computing section of NACA’s (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) Compressor and Turbine Division in Cleveland.

She worked with the researchers to determine what type of information they needed from their test data, then developed the calculations to provide it. She also oversaw about a dozen “human computers,” a talented group of women who collated the test data and performed the mathematical calculations by hand.

By the early 1950s, the lab began acquiring massive electronic computers, which included a large system to record data from the test facilities, another to process the data and store it on punch cards and a business computing machine. Yohner steadfastly learned to operate and program these systems and also began assisting certain engineers with their research. As a result, she co-authored five technical reports, a rarity for the computing staff at the time.

Just as the NACA was transitioning to NASA, Yohner left the lab in 1958 to start a family. She returned to the center in 1962 as a member of the Instrument and Computing Division. Lewis was upgrading its data acquisition system and began acquiring its first transistor computers in the 1960s. These machines permitted flexible job scheduling and near-real time interactive computing. Again, Yohner learned to master these devices, and soon became head of the section.

With the formation of the Computer Services Division in 1972, Yohner was promoted to branch chief in 1978. The branch’s mathematicians, analysts and engineers defined the data requirements for all of the center’s research activities, supported its acquisition and validated it. “I have always tried to set goals and achieve them,” she said.

During this period, Yohner received the center’s Outstanding Woman Award and Woman of Achievement awards from the Cleveland YWCA’s and Federal Executive Board.

Yohner retired in April 1989 after 41 years at the center. She passed away in September 2008.

Andy Stofan present Peggy Yohner with award.
Center Director Andy Stofan presents Peggy Yohner with a “Women of Achievement” certificate in September 1982 for contributing pto the advancement of women while fulfilling the demands of their employment.

Robert S. Arrighi
NASA’s Glenn Research Cente