November 18, 2023 – Shirley Ann Jackson, An Example of Black Excellence

Shirley Ann Jackson Image

Shirley Ann Jackson was born in the District of Columbia in 1946. Her parents read her books about Benjamin Banneker, an African American scientist and mathematician who helped design and build Washington, DC. Her father encouraged her interest in science by assisting her with projects for school.

Shirley Ann Jackson attended Roosevelt High School. Upon graduation she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She was only one of two women in her class and among the first African American students to attend MIT. In 1968, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in theoretical physics. She continued to study at MIT to get her doctorate in nuclear physics. She was the first woman to get a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT and the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT in any field.

Shirley Ann Jackson joined the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories studying materials to be used in the semiconductor industry. She researched the optical and electronic properties of two-dimensional and quasi-two-dimensional systems.

In 1985, Dr. Jackson became the president of the National Society of Black Physicists.

From 1991-1995, Dr. Jackson served on the faculty at Rutgers University in Piscataway and New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Dr. Jackson was appointed by President Bill Clinton to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) where she managed all NRC “functions pertaining to an emergency involving an NRC licensee.” She helped to establish the International Nuclear Regulators Association with nuclear regulatory officials from countries like Canada, France, Germany and Spain.

In 1999, she became the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A 2015 article cited Dr. Jackson as the highest paid college President. Dr. Jackson served as president of Rensselaer Institute until June of 2021.  She raised over $1 billion in donations for philanthropic causes.

Dr. Jackson is featured in the “DC Women – 2024 Planner” published by the National Women’s Foundation which you can purchase at for $20.00.

Dr. Jackson has received numerous awards and many honorary doctorate degrees.  She is considered one of the most important women in science. 

Dr. Jackson is married to Dr. Morris Washington, a physic professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

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