Outstanding Black Women in Engineering: Spotlight on Yvonne Clark
“The important thing to remember is that you have to make your own openings. You also have to discern which problems are yours and which problems belong to the other person. Don’t wear another person’s problems.”
Throughout history, women have demonstrated their remarkable contributions to the field of engineering, navigating numerous challenges and barriers in a predominantly male-dominated profession. Their ingenuity and accomplishments have left a profound impact, propelling engineering forward across various disciplines. Despite some well-known notable achievements, countless untold stories remain hidden. Our mission is to unveil these hidden gems and celebrate the indispensable role played by countless women in shaping our world. By sharing their stories, we aim to inspire and pave the way for future generations of women in engineering.
Yvonne Clark’s passion for building and fixing things began at a young age, as she skillfully used her hands to bring creations together. Overcoming numerous challenges, she paved her way to success, becoming a trailblazer in the field of engineering. Yvonne shattered barriers by becoming the first female to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University, as well as the first black woman engineer in Nashville, Tennessee.
Yvonne’s journey towards achieving her dream was not without obstacles. Restricted by racial prejudice, she was denied admission to the University of Louisville. Undeterred, she sought out an education in mechanical engineering at Howard University. Unfortunately, the academic environment at the time was less than supportive for black women, with efforts made to dissuade her from pursuing her studies due to unfounded notions about her physical attributes.
During an interview on campus, an employer even went so far as to reject her on the basis of lacking the physical strength to operate machinery. Defying such stereotypes, Yvonne graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1951. She then embarked on a teaching career at the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University, rising to the position of associate professor and serving as department head in mechanical engineering. In addition, she spent her summers working in industry and government.
Yvonne’s expertise and dedication led her to receive a grant from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Laboratory. As the lead principal investigator, she conducted experimental evaluations on the performance of alternative refrigerants in heat pump cycles. Her contributions to the field of engineering have greatly influenced our society’s ability to regulate temperature in homes, as heat pumps are instrumental in heating and cooling spaces by transferring heat from one location to another.
Throughout her illustrious career, Yvonne Clark learned the art of choosing her battles wisely. She emphasized the importance of creating opportunities for oneself and distinguishing between personal problems and those of others. In her own words, “The important thing to remember is that you have to make your own openings. You also have to discern which problems are yours and which problems belong to the other person. Don’t wear another person’s problems.”
Yvonne’s exceptional achievements in the engineering profession were recognized by Howard University for outstanding accomplishment and by the Society of Women Engineers for her leadership and distinguished service. Her remarkable legacy continues to inspire future generations in their pursuit of engineering excellence.
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