Trailblazing NASA engineer to headline Center for Women event


Dr. Aprille Ericsson remembers crowding around a black-and-white television a parent brought to school in 1969 to watch the Apollo 12 mission that sent man to the moon for the second time. Aprille was in first grade. But it was not too early for her to start dreaming of space travel.

“It was so impactful. It broadened my horizons as a little girl growing up in New York in the Brooklyn hood,” she said in a Ted Talk in 2016. “And it helped to plant the seed for thinking about space travel.”

Aprille went on to earn her bachelor’s of science in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from MIT. She was the first female to receive a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Howard University and the first female African-American civilian to receive a doctorate in engineering from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She has worked for NASA for more than 25 years. And in 2016, Aprille was the first person of color to receive the prestigious “Washington Award” from the Western Society of Engineers. Other honorees have included Orville Wright, Henry Ford, Neil Armstrong and Bill Nye.

To put it simply, Aprille is a glass-ceiling breaking rocket scientist. She is the signature speaker for the Center for Women event April 15, which is one of the nonprofit’s largest fundraisers of the year. The annual Signature Speaker event features powerful women who have defied expectations and blazed trails for women and marginalized communities in their respective fields, said Lisa Dabney, Center for Women executive director.

Aprille’s visit comes as people are recognizing women, and in particular minorities, for their often unsung work in the fields of math, science, technology and engineering. The 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” won critical acclaim for telling the story of black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the space race in the 1950s and 1960s.

Aprille will talk about what it takes to follow your passion, how we might get to Mars (and back) and the importance of diversity in science and technology.

“She wants young girls to understand and know that space is not just something you see in a movie, that you can pursue a real career in space exploration, in math and science, in finding cures for things, in finding solutions to problems,” Lisa says.

Aprille also is an advocate for the need for all types of diversity –  racial, gender and socio-economic – in math, science and space exploration.

“That’s really important to broadening horizons,” Lisa says.