Yvonne Young Clark is 88 years old, and she has been a member of the Society of Women Engineers for 66 of those years. She joined SWE in 1952 as soon as she heard about it. Just the year before, she had become the first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University. Even though she was the only woman in class, she felt welcomed.
“All my classmates were male and veterans. They respected me and made other people respect me,” she explained.
A Career of Firsts
Yvonne went on to become the first woman to receive a master’s degree in engineering management from Vanderbilt University in 1972. She’s also the first woman to serve as a faculty member in the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University.
“The only thing that can hold me back is me. If I’m not prepared, that’s me. If I am prepared, I am supposed to speak up,” she said.
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“The environment is what you make it. Sometimes the environment is hostile, but don’t worry about it. Be aware of it so you aren’t blind-sided.”
Wikipedia describes Yvonne as a pioneer for African-American and women engineers. Her career has been a series of firsts.
Growing up in the South
She was born in 1925 in Houston, Texas and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father was a physician and her mother was a librarian. As a child, she loved fixing things around the house, such as the wiring of a lamp or the furnace stoker. She took an aeronautics class in high school and joined the school’s Civil Air Patrol.
Advice for Young Women
Offering some advice to young women today, she said, “Prepare yourself. Do your work. Learn, don’t cheat. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and benefit by meeting with other women. Whatever you like, learn about it and pursue it. I liked mechanical stuff.”
After earning her undergraduate degree, Yvonne worked for RCA, where she was the only woman in her division. She married in 1955, began teaching at TSU and had her first child.
Yvonne taught at TSU for over 50 years, where she served twice as department chair. During summer breaks at TSU, she worked at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama and at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. After receiving her master’s, she did an internship at a Ford glass plant in Nashville, Tennessee, becoming the first female engineer to work there.
“The idea was to get the job done for the company. The men and I had no problem,” she said.
Life Member of SWE
Yvonne has served on SWE’s Executive Committee. She was elected to the College of Fellows in 1984 and is a Life Member of SWE. She received the Distinguished Engineering Educator Award from SWE in 1998.
She has a daughter, Carol, and a son, Milton. Her husband Herb passed away in 1994.
Today, she still lives in Nashville. She keeps busy volunteering for a daycare, church, credit union and community group.