Dr. Wendy Okolo, PhD

Aerospace Engineering Researcher in the Intelligent Systems Division for NASA

Dr. Wendy Okolo, PhD

Dr. Wendy A. Okolo is an aerospace engineering researcher in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Her focus is in systems-health monitoring and control-systems design with applications to air and space components, vehicles, and systems. To that effect, she manages a multimillion-dollar subproject on a system-wide safety project, leading a team to develop the monitoring, predictive, and mitigation capabilities that will enable the safe operations of unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. national airspace. She also leads a controls team on a space technology project to advance the guidance, navigation, and control technologies that will make precision landing for deployable-entry vehicles a reality for planetary exploration.

Her research experience includes stints at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where she worked on her dissertation research in aircraft formation-flight for fuel savings. Her efforts were demonstrated with flight tests by the U.S. Air Force to realize easily attainable fuel efficiencies with existing and new aircraft. She also worked at Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs (Skunk Works), using performance-optimizing control techniques for the Joint Strike Fighter F-35C to improve efficiencies of aircraft belonging to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command. As an undergraduate aerospace student, she interned at Lockheed Martin on the Orion spacecraft, NASA’s crew exploration vehicle that will facilitate human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. She was also an undergraduate research assistant in flight dynamics and controls, which motivated her current research interests.

At 26 years old, Wendy became the first Black woman to obtain a PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. Her graduate studies were recognized and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense through a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, by a Zonta International Foundation Amelia Earhart Fellowship, by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and by the Texas Space Grant Consortium. Other research awards include a Resolution of Commendation from the Tarrant County Court of Texas and an award for excellence in research by the Women of Color in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). At NASA, she has received a number of awards, including the 2020 NASA Ames Award for Researcher/Scientist and the 2019 NASA Ames Early Career Researcher Award. Dr. Okolo is also the recipient of the 2019 UT Arlington Distinguished Recent Graduate Award, the 2019 Women In Aerospace Initiative-Inspiration-Impact Award, and the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year Award for Most Promising Engineer—Government.

Dr. Okolo is an avid supporter of changing the narrative of underrepresentation in STEM, particularly for young girls, career women, and people of colour. In addition to her role as an aerospace researcher, she has served as the special emphasis programs manager for women, working to demonstrate and ensure NASA’s commitment to the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women. Her initiatives include creating nursing rooms for mothers to ease their transition back to work and analyzing job language usage in position descriptions to remove gendered language biases that reduce female applicants. Dr. Okolo is always a call away from giving a keynote, serving on a panel, inspiring the next generation of minority STEM leaders, and providing tools for individuals and organizations to foster diversity and inclusion in STEM.

Keynote Session: A Rocket Scientist’s Guide to Innovation through Inclusion