In recognition of Black History Month, ISA applauds the contributions of African-American automation professionals and engineers

  • February 11, 2016
  • Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

In recognition of Black History Month, observed annually each February in the US and Canada, the International Society of Automation (ISA) honors the remarkable contributions of African-American automation professionals and engineers.

Outlined below is just a sampling of the outstanding black men and women who have helped advance the quality of life on this planet through their brilliance and commitment to discovery. Many of these pioneers are alive and well, continuing to innovate and change the world.

Note: To read a Q&A feature on Black History Month that ISA published last February, click here. The feature provides the perspective and insights of Peggie W. Koon, Ph.D., the first African American (and second female) to have held the office of ISA president.

David Crosthwait (1898–1976)
David Crosthwait received a master’s degree in engineering degree from Purdue University in 1920. Crosthwait was a pioneer in air ventilation, central air conditioning, and heat transfer systems. He created many different heating systems, refrigeration methods, temperature regulating devices, and vacuum pumps. He holds 39 US patents, as well as 80 international patents. In the 1920s and 1930s, Crosthwait invented a vacuum pump, a boiler, and a thermostat control for more effectively heating systems large buildings. Among his greatest accomplishments were creating the heating systems for the Rockefeller Center and New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Wanda Austin (1954-)
Wanda Austin, Ph.D., is president and chief executive officer of The Aerospace Corporation, a leading architect for the nation’s national security space programs. Dr. Austin has been instrumental in shaping the US aerospace industry and in ensuring national security within the space community. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama to advise the government on the future of space missions.

Howard P. Grant (1925-1997)
Howard P. Grant was the first black graduate of the University of California Berkeley College of Engineering. He went on to become the first black engineer for the city and county of San Francisco, where he addressed water engineering issues, and the first recorded black member of the American Society of Civil Engineers

Jesse Eugene Russell (1948-)
Trained as an electrical engineer at Tennessee State University and Stanford University, Jesse Eugene Russell helped to shape the direction of the wireless communications industry and the field of digital cellular communication. The former Chief Wireless Architect at AT&T Bell Labs, he holds more than 75 patents in digital cellular technologies, dual-mode digital cellular phones and digital software radio.

Walter Braithwaite (1945-)
Born in Jamaica, Walter Braithwaite received a degree in engineering in 1966 and joined Boeing the same year. Braithwaite and his team developed computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems for Boeing, which led the way for airplanes and many other products designed entirely through software. Braithwaite also became the highest-ranking black executive at Boeing when he was named president of Boeing Africa in 2000. After 36 years with the aircraft titan, he retired in 2003.

Mae C. Jemison (1956-)
Mae C. Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut. In 1992, she flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space. During her eight days in orbit, she conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself. Jemison received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University and a medical degree from Cornell University Medical College.

William Hunter Dammond (1873-1956)
William Hunter Dammond was the first African-American graduate of the Western University of Pennsylvania (which later became the University of Pittsburgh). After graduating with honors from the university in 1893, Dammon moved to Michigan to work as a bridge engineer. He invented an electrical signaling system for railway engineers to recognize the approach of another train, receiving a patent for it. In 1906, he was issued another patent for a "safety system" in railway operation.

Robert F. Smith (1962-)
Robert F. Smith, the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (an investment company), is the only African American male on the Forbes 400—the magazine’s annual list of the 400 richest Americans. Smith has amassed a $2.5 billion fortune mostly through business software and technology companies. He is the second-wealthiest African American to make the list (after Oprah Winfrey). Smith recently made a $50 million commitment to Cornell University’s School of Engineering, his alma mater. He received a degree in chemical engineering from Cornell in 1985.

Aprille Ericsson-Jackson (1963-)
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University and the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. She’s currently a senior deputy instrument manager at NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite program.

About ISA

The International Society of Automation ( is a nonprofit professional association that sets the standard for those who apply engineering and technology to improve the management, safety, and cybersecurity of modern automation and control systems used across industry and critical infrastructure. Founded in 1945, ISA develops widely used global standards; certifies industry professionals; provides education and training; publishes books and technical articles; hosts conferences and exhibits; and provides networking and career development programs for its 40,000 members and 400,000 customers around the world.

ISA owns, a leading online publisher of automation-related content, and is the founding sponsor of The Automation Federation (, an association of non-profit organizations serving as "The Voice of Automation." Through a wholly owned subsidiary, ISA bridges the gap between standards and their implementation with the ISA Security Compliance Institute ( and the ISA Wireless Compliance Institute (