Wanda Austin (Finding Aid)

Wanda Austin

1954 -

Favorite Color: Teal Blue

Favorite Food: Sweet Potato Pie

Favorite Time of Year: Fall in the East Coast

Favorite Vacation Spot: Hawaii and East Coast

Interview Length: 130 minutes

Interview Date(s): April 25, 2011

Interview Location(s): El Segundo, California


Wanda Austin begins by talking about her family background. Her mother, Hellen McCallum Lewis Pompey was born in South Carolina and raised in Newark, New Jersey. She became a registered nurse after completing her education. Austin's father, Murry Pompey, ran a barber shop in the Bronx where Austin grew up. She describes her childhood in her Bronx neighborhood as well as her experience in elementary school. Austin attended a local elementary school called PS 132 and later bussed to a better school in a Jewish neighborhood called PS46. She participated in the Girl Scouts and various church activities because her mother stressed involvement outside of school. Austin first became interested in mathematics in junior high school.

Wanda Austin talks about her accelerated, two-year program at Hoffman Junior High School and her experience at Bronx High School of Science where she began her studies in 1967. Austin's family paid close attention to civil rights events such as the deaths of John F. Kennedy [1963], Malcom X [1965], and Martin Luther King Jr. [1968]. Due to an experience butting heads with her literature teacher, Austin decided to pursue mathematics, which is more concrete. She went to Franklin and Marshall College where she graduated with her B.S. degree in mathematics in 1975. After a brief stint working towards a teaching certificate, Austin decided to go to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her M.S. in both mathematics and engineering in 1977. Her work in applied mathematics involved modeling traffic systems.

Wanda Austin earned her M.S. degrees in mathematics and engineering in 1977 before going to work at Rockwell International for eighteen months. In 1979 she left Rockwell to go to the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California where she worked on a number of projects in the satellite communications and defense arena. During that time she was juggling her family (husband and two sons), work, and further studies, which she pursued at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Austin earned her Ph.D. degree in 1988 and her dissertation was called, "Understanding Natural Language in the Application of System Dynamics Modeling." Austin explains her work in the MILSAC (Military Satellite Communications) Program at Aerospace Corporation and talks about how the Cold War affected the satellite business and space technology.

Wanda Austin talks about her promotions within the Aerospace Corporation. In July 2001, she became senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology group. Austin was appointed senior vice president of Special Studies in 2004, which involved work with the intelligence community and Reconnaissance Office. From 2004 to 2008, she served as senior vice president of Aerospace's National Systems Group (NSG) after which she became CEO of the company in 2008. Austin talks about her hopes for the future of Aerospace Corporation and reflects on her life's accomplishments by discussing her legacy. In 2009, Austin served on President Barack Obama's Augustine Commission which sought to examine and review human space flight plans for the future.

Wanda Austin talks about what she would have done differently if given the chance. Both of her parents were able to see her earn her Ph.D. degree, and they were proud of her accomplishments. Austin goes on to talk about the challenges of raising her own family and her concerns for the black community. She would like to be remembered as someone who enjoyed life, was engaged in technology, and influenced people for the better.

43 Stories (See Ordered Story Set)