It is no secret that each day at AME we salute the work of our students, staff and faculty members past and present. On October 13, 2016, we were fortunate enough to celebrate the work of our own alumna and former College of Engineering Assistant Dean & Instructor Donna Shirley, who was presented with the Annie Oakley Society Award at the society’s sixth annual luncheon and award ceremony. Notably in attendance were Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Gallogly College of Engineering Dean Tom Landers and other GCoE leadership, AME Professor David Miller and members of the Sooner Rover Team. The Annie Oakley Society is comprised of women leaders and philanthropists who, like Annie Oakley, play significant roles in shaping our communities and creating new horizons. Also recognized at the award ceremony was Jo Rowan, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions in the field of dance and creative arts.
At age 17, Donna Shirley earned her pilot’s license, won the Miss Wynnewood, OK crown, and competed in the Miss Oklahoma pageant. Following high school, she enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, obtaining a technical writing degree in 1962 and a bachelor’s degree from AME in 1965. She went on to enjoy a more than 30-year career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and retired in 1998 as the Manager of the Mars Exploration Program. During her time at NASA, Ms. Shirley lead the team that built and successfully landed the Mars rover “Sojourner” in 1997. Ms. Shirley remarked that the was the lone female of 2000+ person group at JPL at that time. She then became assistant dean of the College of Engineering at OU, where in the past she was told that girls could never be engineers – she has fought successfully to help transform that attitude. After a brief introduction, the conversation with Ms. Shirley spearheaded into a discussion of the role and importance of women in engineering.
It’s “easier” now…
Ms. Shirley gave clear and concise advice to all in attendance regarding the state of affairs for women in highly scientific fields like Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering. She said, “It’s easier [being a female in engineering] now but remember, you must be good [at whatever you’re doing].” She went on to explain that in the competitive hiring and retention environment of engineering, we must all strive to be the best at what we do. “Learning is ultimately important and not relying solely on grades”, she explained. Donna casually outlined one story she thought was important to note in which a disagreement developed between her and a male colleague. She handled the situation by relying only on the technical work she had done – outshining the negative attention only by being better. This an attitude she hopes all engineers (not only women) will adopt.
We at the School of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering congratulate Donna Shirley on her award and applaud her for the way she continues to advocate for women in engineering. To celebrate her efforts, AME pledges to strive to always be an environment conducive to the success of everyone we interact with. Please join us as we recognize her hard work.
- By: Jawanza Bassue – MS Aerospace Engineering Candidate 2017