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Wonder Woman

Institute professor Sheila Widnall, a member of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame last October at a ceremony in Seneca Falls, NY. She was one of 12 inductees for 2003 and was chosen for her outstanding professional achievements, as well as her dedication to the advancement of women in science.

Among other accomplishments, Widnall ‘60, MS ‘61, ScD ‘64, is a world-renowned engineer. Appointed secretary of the U.S. Air Force in 1993, she was the first, and so far the only, woman to head a branch of the U.S. military. She was also the first woman to serve as chair of the MIT faculty, and she was instrumental in increasing the number of women studying at the Institute. Widnall is currently vice president of the National Academy of Engineering. She has received honorary degrees from a dozen institutions and has top-secret government clearance. An expert on aerodynamics, she recently served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, exploring the space shuttle Columbia’s reentry accident.

“I am extremely delighted with this recognition,” says Widnall. “I am proud to be included among the honorees.” She is the fourth MIT alumna inductee into the hall of fame, which has also honored Shirley Ann Jackson ‘68, PhD ‘73, 1904 graduate Katharine Dexter McCormick, and Ellen Swallow Richards, who in 1873 became the Institute’s first female graduate.

Widnall grew up near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, WA, where the sky was always full of airplanes. “I spent my childhood waving at pilots,” she says. “Now they wave at me.”

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