3/20/2017 Peter Durantine

Aerospace Leader Austin '75 to Deliver F&M's Commencement Address

From the Bronx High School of Science in New York City to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Wanda Austin's professional career has soared since she graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in 1975.

Austin will deliver the College's May 13 Commencement address. She is an engineer who recently retired as head of one of the nation's leading aerospace research centers for defense-related space programs.

"My objective is to remind the students that they have benefited from a tremendous educational opportunity that has prepared them to succeed in reaching their goals no matter what has occurred in the world," Austin said.  

During Commencement ceremonies, the College will award honorary degrees to Donald Graham, the eminent former publisher of the internationally renowned newspaper, The Washington Post and Evelyn Farkas '89, who served from 2010 to 2015 as the Pentagon's top official overseeing military relations with Russia and Ukraine. She is now a national security analyst for NBC/MSNBC.

  • Austin and the Aerospace Corp. launched the Dr. Wanda M. Austin STEM Scholarship, a four-year scholarship awarded each year to a promising student from a Title 1 high school in the Los Angeles area. Image Credit: Aerospace Corp.

As president and CEO of California-based Aerospace Corp., a worldwide organization that employs more than 4,000 people, Austin established an international reputation for her work in satellite and payload system acquisition, systems engineering and system simulation.

Austin's father was a barber who never finished high school and her mother a nurse. Her parents encouraged her to believe there were no limits to what she could accomplish in life. The budding mathematician entered high school with that mindset. In 1975, she became among the first African American women to graduate from F&M.  Today, she is a leader in efforts to attract more women and minorities to careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In 2016, Austin and the Aerospace Corp. launched the Dr. Wanda M. Austin STEM Scholarship, a four-year scholarship awarded each year to a promising student from a Title 1 high school in the Los Angeles area.

After she graduated from F&M with a degree in mathematics, Austin went on to earn a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in systems engineering and mathematics, having discovered how applied mathematics could help solve problems.

Austin worked on missile systems at Rockwell International for 18 months before leaving in 1979 to join Aerospace Corp. as a member of the technical staff. Her skills impressed an executive who encouraged her to pursue a doctorate, which she earned in systems engineering at the University of Southern California in 1988. Twenty years later, she became head of Aerospace, which she led until her retirement in 2016.

President Barack Obama appointed Austin – a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the International Academy of Astronautics, and a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics – as an adviser to the president and White House on matters of science and technology in 2015.

Austin is a recipient of numerous awards, including the National Intelligence Medallion for Meritorious Service and a 2012 honorary degree from F&M.

Honorary Degree Recipients


Evelyn Farkas, who after F&M earned her master's and doctoral degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes on international affairs, and is author of the 2003 book, "Fractured States and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, Ethiopia, and Bosnia in the 1990s." As U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Farkas advised three secretaries of defense on Russian and Ukrainian policy and has been praised by defense officials for bringing “fresh thinking to Southeast Europe policies – supporting Montenegro’s interest in joining NATO, expanding defense cooperation with Georgia, and increasing multilateral cooperation with the three Caucasus nations.” 

Eighty years after his grandfather Eugene Meyer bought The Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933, Donald Graham sold the newspaper in 2013 and became chairman of Graham Holdings Company, which comprises a range of companies in diversified business sectors including media properties such as the online magazine Slate. He co-founded TheDream.Us for students who qualify under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAMers), a national scholarship program launched in 2014 that has served more than 1,700 students.  

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