Thank you to mathemagician Art Benjamin, who submitted this GGSTEM post:
Born in Beijing, China in 1932, Dr. Ying-chu Lin (Susan) Wu went to Taiwan with her family in 1947 starting 8th grade then moved to the USA in 1957 on a scholarship to study aerospace engineering at Ohio State University, earning her Masters Degree in 1959. This was followed by an Amelia Earhart Scholarship at Caltech, where she became the first woman at Caltech to earn a PhD in Aeronautics, in 1963. Dr. Wu did research in magnetohydrodynamics propulsion, combining Maxwell’s equations with fluid dynamics. She taught at the University of Tennessee Spacie Institute in Tullahoma, Tennessee until 1988. In 1987, she started her own company, ERC, which now has over 800 employees, focusing on does engineering research and development, consulting, and testing in aerospace technology.
Dr. Wu adds:
Starting a company was not my original wish or desire but became my last resort to work in aerospace after finishing my degree in Aerospace in 1963. In 1962, one year before I finished my Ph. D. from Caltech I received devastating news – I had a hole between my atria which had to be repaired. When I was looking for job before graduation, the only requirement which I had was providing my open heart surgery. Unfortunately that was almost impossible because my heart was a “pre-existing condition” which was excluded from insurance! Finally I found a job in Pasadena at Electro – Optical Systems, Inc. to work on “magnetohydrodynamics” which would pay for my surgery. I knew nothing about this subject matter, but to save my life I’d work on anything!
Talking about desperation, I knew what it was like! I was a mother of two young boys and one year before finished my degree then came the bomb! At that time I was not worried about my degree but my two toddler sons, Ernie (born in 1960) and Albert (born in 1961). I was very scared if I did not make the operation. Open heart surgery was quite new in the early 1960’s. I had surgery in 1964 at Los Angeles. Thank God I survived!
When I turned 55, I took early retirement from the University of Tennessee Space Institute located in Tullahoma, Tennessee and started my own aerospace company. That was the only way I could return back to aerospace because I had never touched aerospace since graduation till then. No one would hire an entry level aerospace engineer who had never worked in aerospace other than a degree over 20 years earlier. Finally I decided to start my company and hire myself. This would not solve my problem of getting back to aerospace. After some soul searching I decided start from artificial intelligence to analyze data for NASA Space Shuttle. We could do it much faster, consequently cheaper. From there I could gradually get back into aerospace.
As I aged my broken heart did not forget me. I started having difficulties. In 1988 I had a minor stroke. Now I wear a pacemaker (my third one) to keep my heart pumping. My eldest son, Ernie is running my company and I enjoy retirement life and grand kids.