Mary G. Ross, P.E., F.SWE, was the first American Indian woman engineer. Ross is noted for her contributions to the aerospace industry and as a role model and mentor for American Indians. Ross was an active member and Fellow of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and her impact on women in engineering resulted in the Mary G. Ross Scholarship, administered by the Santa Clara Valley Section.
In a career that covered nearly five decades, Ross amassed a number of accomplishments and firsts, from being the first woman engineer employed by Lockheed Missiles and Space Company to working on such major programs as the Agena rocket and the Poseidon and Trident missiles. To this day, however, much of her work remains classified, keeping the full extent of her contributions hidden. The national Science Foundation reports that only 0.1 percent of those working in science and engineering are female American Indians, and according to the U.S. Census, only 11 percent of employed aerospace engineers are women. Ross was truly blazing a trail in her efforts and accomplishments.
More about Ross
- Mary G. Ross was featured in SWE’s recent tribute to Ten Trailblazing Women Who Changed STEM.
- Smithsonian Magazine: This Little-Known Math Genius Helped America Reach the Stars – It’s time for Mary Golda Ross to be remembered as an aerospace pioneer
- Cherokee Nation: The Cherokee Nation Remembers Mary Golda Ross, the First Woman Engineer for Lockheed
- Mary G. Ross stars on a 1958 airing of What’s My Line with Andy Griffith
Member of the Cherokee Nation
Ross was the great-great granddaughter of Chief John Ross, who led the Cherokees on their arduous Trail of Tears, a forced march from the Southeastern United States to relocation in Oklahoma. Mary Ross was born in 1908, grew up with the Cherokee value of learning, and subsequently pursued paths that were nontraditional for women. She graduated from Northeastern State College with a degree in math and taught high school math and science before earning a master’s in math from Colorado State College of Education.
Following retirement, Ross continued to encourage women and American Indian youth to pursue careers in math and engineering, working with organizations such as SWE. She also worked closely with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) to expand their educational programs. She was named an honorary life member of AISES, and CERT named its highest award after her. She was inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992.
Mary G. Ross Scholarship
Her efforts made a lasting impact on women engineers in California, the SWE Santa Clara Valley Section of SWE started the Mary G. Ross scholarship in 1992. For more information on this scholarship, visit here.
When asked how this scholarship impacted her ability to study engineering, Aditi Jain explained that the scholarship was … “More than money, it gave me confidence. I don’t think I considered myself an engineer until I received the scholarship.” Jain earned a degree in Math and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and now works at Google where she applies computer vision to Google Maps Streetview Imagery.
Another scholarship recipient, Ella Tyler says, “Being recognized by SWE was an honor, and it inspires me to learn that SWE has faith in my ability to succeed as an engineer.” Ella is studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California Berkeley.
In 2018, SWE distributed more than 200 scholarships valued at more than $750,000. For more information on scholarship opportunities available, visit swe.org/scholarships.