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NASA Glenn History Includes Contributions of Women in Aerospace Research

Three women and a man face computers and monitoring equipment.
Women help conduct an aircraft engine test from the control room of the Engine Research Building in June 1944. The number of women employed at the Aircraft Engine Research Lab (predecessor to NASA Glenn) nearly doubled between 1943 and 1944.
Credits: NASA

Women have been essential to the success of the NASA’s Glenn Research Center since its inception as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1941. They have been part of a broad team of individuals with wide ranging skills and responsibilities to accomplish critical research in aeronautics and space.

Women at Glenn During World War II

An influx of female employees helped the center carry out its activities during World War II. Many were trained as technicians or human computers, while others worked in the administrative areas. Although a number departed after the war, others adapted to the center’s evolving mission and had long careers.

Woman at a desk holds a pencil as she conducts mathematical computations.
Christine Truax supervised the center’s computation activities from 1942 to 1967. Truax, a former educator in her native Mississippi, prided herself on teaching young NACA staffers to perform activities that normally required college degrees.

Impacts in Science and Technology

The 1950s and 1960s saw an increase in the number of women pursuing science and technology careers at the center, particularly chemists and physicists, who made important impacts in fields such as high-energy fuels, nuclear propulsion, and power systems.

Chemist Frances Dunkel Coffin writes on a clipboard in front of lab equipment.
Chemist Frances Dunkel Coffin at work in the Materials and Stresses Building. Coffin started at the laboratory in 1951 after earning her PhD in physical chemistry at Cornell University. She studied thermodynamics and crystallography at NASA Lewis (now NASA Glenn) for 20 years.

Adding Vital Support to Operations

Women have been vital to the center’s operations and administration areas as well, providing computer coding, technical report production, communications, financial services, and other support functions that are critical to Glenn’s overall operation.

S. Jenise Veris holds a microphone and asks a question.
S. Jenise Veris was a writer and editor for the center newsletter for 25 years before retiring in 2020. During her tenure, Veris authored hundreds of articles and interviewed individuals from across the center. She began her NASA career in 1993 as a member of the Power Technology Division.

As the number of women in the workforce grew in the 1960s, groups like the NASA Lewis Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW) were formed to advocate for and recognize female employees.

Four women smile while standing at a railing.
Newly elected BPW officers in June 1977 included (from left) June Szucs (secretary and Community Relations assistant for 39 years), Del Zatroch (an executive secretary for over 45 years), Loretta Shaw (an aerospace engineer and chief of the Compressor Branch), and Jean Bertoia (Materials and Stresses Division secretary and External Affairs specialist).

Becoming Leaders

In the 1970s and 1980s more women began taking on management roles, initially as supervisors and branch chiefs, then as the heads of entire divisions.

Sandy Reehorst smiles at the camera.
Sandy Reehorst joined Glenn Research Center in 1985 and later in her career was responsible for the space station’s flight software development and photovoltaic power module testing. She served in several managerial positions and was named the center’s deputy chief technologist before retiring in 2018.
Carol Russo in control room.
In 1993 Carol Russo was named director of Aeronautics, the first woman to head a directorate at the center. She led the agency’s advanced research and technology for aeronautical propulsion systems.

In the early 1990s women began serving at the highest levels in center management and currently hold many senior management positions today. Glenn’s first woman center director was Janet Kavandi. Marla Pérez-Davis holds the same position today.

Two seated women hold microphones while answering questions.
Janet Kavandi (left) and Marla Pérez-Davis hold a town hall meeting in December 2017. Kavandi, a former astronaut who flew on three shuttle flights, served as Glenn’s center director from 2015-2019. Pérez-Davis began her career at the center in 1983 as a chemical engineer working power storage systems. She was named center director in 2020.

For more about the impact women are making today at NASA, visit our Women at NASA web page.

Robert S. Arrighi
NASA’s Glenn Research Center



Last Updated
Jun 28, 2024
Robert S. Arrighi
Glenn Research Center