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Dissertationproject of Viviana Acuña Azuaje

Cover photo: On Sept. 12, 1992, launch day of the STS-47 Spacelab-J mission on space shuttle Endeavour, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison waits as her suit technician, Sharon McDougle, performs an unpressurized and pressurized leak check on her spacesuit at the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center. She was the first Black woman to fly in space. (Image Credit: NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/looking-back-astronaut-mae-jemison-suits-up-for-launch)

“Don’t Stop Me Now!”: The Perseverance of Women of Color in NASA during the 80s through the 90s (working title)

Throughout U.S. history, Women of Color (WOC) have been severely underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt would open the door for WOC as he signed Executive Order 8802, the “Fair Employment Practice in Defense Industries.” While in a racially segregated country, this decision prohibited racial discrimination in hiring and resulted in the recruitment of minorities in federal positions. Katherine G. Johnson, a mastermind mathematician, was selected and became one of the first Black women to work as a computer scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center. Her calculations were critical for the most significant achievement of U.S. aerospace: the three orbits of John Glenn around the Earth. She and many others would pave the way for other WOC to pursue and persist in STEM careers and aerospace domains when such occupations did not consider women or minorities.
Previous work has only focused on the lived experience of White women and WOC trailblazers during the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, further research is needed to address first-hand accounts of WOC’s day-to-day work experience at NASA during the 1980s through the 1990s. NASA as a workplace during this timeframe has also been overlooked. For instance, their institutional efforts to maintain and support WOC in the STEM workforce. This doctoral research aims to recount the lived experiences of WOC working in STEM careers at NASA during the 80s and the 90s and evaluate the role that institutional support from NASA might have played in advancing their careers.
As an analytical framework, I will employ critical race theory. Precisely one of its theoretical tools, counternarratives, to analyze the personal experience of WOC put up against what is found in the administrative records at NASA. A qualitative mixed methodology will be used based on archival material analysis and oral history interviews. First, the archive research will include U.S. historical records on the WOC workforce, diversity policies, and professional development programs from NASA’s Headquarters and four field centers (Ames Research Center, Glenn Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center,  and Johnson Space Center). Second, oral history interviews will be conducted with approximately 25 WOC in the engineering, computer science, and mathematics fields. The data will be later examined to look for categories and emerging themes. Themes of particular interest will be associated with the challenges encountered, the strategies applied, and the institutional support from NASA.


Short biography:

Since 04/2022 | Scholarship recipient, Integrated Track at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne

Since 2021| Ph.D. Candidate in North American History, supervised by Prof. Dr. Anke Ortlepp

06/2021-10/2021 | Program & Project Administrator , Department of Cooperation Projects in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America (P24), DAAD

2019-2021| Research Assistant, International Relations Center of the Management, Economics, and Social Sciences Faculty, University of Cologne

2018-2021 | Graduate Studies in North American Studies (Focus on Postcolonial Studies and Politics)

2018 | Student Assistant, International Office Department 93 at the University of Cologne

2017-2018 | Internship, DAAD Cuba, Universidad de La Habana

2015-2017 | Undergraduate Studies in Romance Studies & English Studies at the University of Cologne

2010-2014 | Undergraduate Studies in German Language and English (Focus on Translation & Interpreting) at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Venezuela


Contact:  vacunaa2SpamProtectionsmail.uni-koeln.de