Aeronautical engineer and engineering executive Wanda Austin was born on September 8,1954 in New York City, New York. Growing up in a low-income Bronx neighborhood, Austin’s parents, a barber and a nurse, encouraged her interests, and Austin discovered a love for mathematics. Austin graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1971, and she received a scholarship to attend Franklin and Marshall College. She earned her B.A. degree in mathematics in 1975. Although she was trained as a high school math teacher and professional in actuarial science, she was not drawn to either career, and so continued her studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her M.S. degrees in mathematics and systems engineering in 1977. Upon her graduation, Austin became a member of the technical staff in missile systems with Rockwell International for a eighteen months.
In 1979, Austin began her lengthy career with The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit research and development center with strong ties to the National Security Space and Communications programs. Within a couple years of her employment, Austin was recognized for her commitment to the community, being named one of five Women of the Year and honored with the Robert H. Herndon Black Image Award. With an advanced study grant from The Aerospace Corporation, and the support of Eberhardt Rechtin, president and CEO of the company, Austin received her Ph.D. degree from the University of Southern California in 1988, while continuing to manage developments within the satellite communication systems for the United States Air Force. Throughout her career, Austin became recognized for her work in satellite and payload system acquisition, systems engineering, and system simulation. In 1991, Austin was promoted to manager of Air Force Satellite Communications Systems. Continuing her work with the Milstar Satellite Program, a system of communications satellites created to provide secure and jam-resistant communications for the United States military, Austin became the general manager of the Electronic Systems Division of The Aerospace Corp. in 1997. Within three years, she was named the senior vice president of Special Studies of the National Systems Group, and in 2008, Austin was unanimously selected by the Aerospace Corporation board of trustees to become the president and CEO of the organization.
Austin has received much recognition for her work, her leadership, and her outreach efforts. She was named a fellow of the prestigious American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Austin was also inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the Black Engineer of the Year Award in 2009. In addition to these honors, Austin was selected to serve on President Obama’s Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009, and the Defense Science Board in 2010.
Austin and her husband, Wade Austin, have two adult sons.
Wanda Austin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 25, 2011.