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Dissertationproject of Viviana Acuña Azuaje

"Don't Stop Me Now!": The Perseverance of Women of Color in NASA during the 80s through the 90s (Working Title)

Women of Color's (WOC) accomplishments in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have been highly ignored in U.S. history. Especially unnoticed is the life experience of those who persisted and achieved leadership positions. Nonetheless, in recent years there has been a growing interest in the life experiences of WOC pioneers of the 50s and 60s, such as Katherine G. Johnson, one of the first Black women to work as a mathematician or "human computer" at NASA. She played a critical role in many memorable NASA missions, including the Space Race, the Apollo missions, and the Space Shuttle missions during the 80s and 90s.
Despite the growing body of literature devoted to WOC STEM pioneers in NASA during the Civil Rights Era, very little is known about the unique experience of those who ventured into these careers past the 50s and the 60s. Thus, further research is needed to address first-hand accounts of WOC's day-to-day work experience at NASA during the 80s through the 90s. Furthermore, NASA as a workplace has been severely overlooked during this timeframe, especially its institutional
efforts to maintain and support WOC in the STEM workforce.
Thus, this doctoral research seeks to fill that void and recount the challenges and resilience of WOC working at NASA during the 80s through the 90s. Also, to evaluate the role that institutional support from NASA might have played in advancing their careers. Critical race theory will serve as a theoretical tool, specifically counternarratives, to analyze the personal experience of WOC. A qualitative mixed method 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. Second, oral history interviews will be conducted with fifteen WOC in STEM fields. Recovering the life experiences of WOC during the 80s through 90s can be an invaluable platform to tell their stories and to inspire future generations of WOC in STEM and aerospace careers in general. Also, to account for how institutions like NASA might have offered (or not) the support they needed to succeed.
Cover photo: NASA astronaut Mae Jemison and her suit technician, Sharon McDougle on Sept. 12, 1992, launch day of the STS-47 Spacelab-J mission.
(Image Credit: NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/looking-back-astronaut-mae-jemison-suits-up-for-launch)


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

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

2015-2017 | Undergraduate Studies on Romance Studies & English Studies, University of Cologne Scholarships and Felowships

10/2022 | Doctoral Research Felowship, German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C

Since 04/2022 | Doctoral scholarship, Integrated Track at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne, University of Cologne

10/2021- 04/2022 | Pre-doc scholarship, a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne, University of Cologne

08/2014 | University Summer School Scholarship, DAAD, Bonn


Professional Experience

08/2022-06/2023 | Research Assistant, ML4Q (Matter and Light for Quantum Computing), University of Cologne

06/2021-10/2021 | Program & Project Administrator , Deparment 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 | Student Assistant, International Office Abteilung 93 at the University of Cologne

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


Conferences and Presentations

05/2023 | “Women of Color in STEM Careers at NASA during the 80s and the 90s”, Meeting of the Historians in the DGfA Historians Conference, Tutzing.

03/2023 | Presentation of PhD research, Barnes Conference, Temple University, USA.


Research Interests

• Critical Race Studies
• Memory Studies
• Oral History
• Space History
• Gender History
• History of Science and Technology


Contact:  vacunaa2SpamProtectionsmail.uni-koeln.de