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Sheila E. Widnall is the 2009 NAE Arthur M. Bueche Award Recipient. She is being honored "for a remarkable academic career in fluid dynamics combined with the highest levels of public service, and for championing the role of women in engineering."
Sheila Widnall is Institute Professor at MIT. She has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1964, with affiliations in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Division of Engineering Systems. In 1992, she was appointed associate provost, in which position she was responsible for academic integrity, including policies on conflicts of interest, federal relations, faculty retirement, tenure and promotion, and international programs.
In 1993, she was nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to serve as Secretary of the Air Force, the first, and only woman to date, to serve as a secretary of a U.S. military service. During her tenure, Dr. Widnall was responsible for recruitment, organization, training, administration, logistical support, maintenance, and welfare of personnel. She was also responsible formulating Air Force policies and programs; coordinating activities with other military departments and agencies of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD); implementing policies, programs, and budget decisions; supervising Air Force intelligence activities; presenting and justifying Air Force positions on DOD plans, programs, and policies, including recommendations to Congress, with special emphasis on the Air Force space program. She also co-chaired the DOD Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination. Dr. Widnall returned to her faculty position at MIT in 1997 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1998.
Professor Widnall has been a spokesperson and role model for the advancement of women in engineering at MIT and nationally. Since her freshman year at MIT, which she was one of only 20 women in a class of 1,000 students, she has led programs to increase the number of women, which now stands at 48 percent of the undergraduate student body. On the national level, she has traveled and spoken tirelessly to audiences at universities, industry, and government agencies.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), Dr. Widnall was NAE vice president (1998–2006) and a member of the NAE Council and COSEPUP (1992–1993); a member and later chair of the Draper Prize Committee (1988–1993); Membership Committee (1992–1993 and 1998–2006); Nominating Committee (1986–1987). She also served on many National Research Council committees and boards: Aerospace Peer Committee (1989–1992 and 2009); Committee on Scientific Responsibility and the Conduct of Science (1990–1992); Committee on Data Needs for Monitoring Labor Market Conditions for Engineers (1987); Committee on Technology Issues that Impact International Competitiveness (1987); U.S. National Committee on Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (1984–1988); Committee on Education and Utilization of Engineers and Subcommittee on Engineering and Technical Systems (1983–1985); Space and Aeronautics Board (1975–1978); and the Board on Science and Law (2000–2008).
Dr. Widnall is a Fellow and past president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fellow of the American Physical Society; a Fellow and past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society; an IEEE Honorary Member; and a member of the American Philosophical Society. She has received honorary degrees from New England College (1976); Laurence University (1987); Cedar Crest College (1988); Mount Holyoke College (1991); Smith College (1990); Lafayette College (1993); Princeton University (1994); Suffolk Law (1994); University of Connecticut (2000); Northeastern University (2000); Colorado School of Mines (2000); The Royal Institute of Technology of Sweden (2002); Polytechnic University (2003); Worcester Polytechnic Institute (2003); University of Puget Sound (2007); Claremont Graduate University (2008); Oxford University (2008); and Northwestern University (2008).
During the course of her career, Dr. Widnall has received many honors and awards: AIAA Lawrence Sperry Achievement Award (1972); Society of Women Engineers Outstanding Achievement Award (1975); Boston Museum of Science Washburn Award (1987); ASME Applied Mechanics Award (1996); Barnard College Medal of Distinction (1994);W. Stuart Symington Award-Air Force Association (1995); Boston USO Military Service Award (1995); Maxwell A. Kriendler Memorial Award-Air Force Association (1995); Pathfinder Award, Museum of Flight, Seattle Washington (1996); AIAA Durand Lectureship for Public Service (1996); Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame (1996); New Englander of the Year (1996); Defense Distinguished Service Medal (1997); Distinguished Service Medal, National Reconnaissance Office (1997); Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, Department of the Army (1997); Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, Department of the Navy (1997); Goddard Award, National Space Club (1998); James V. Hartinger Award, National Defense Intelligence Agency (1999); Reed Aeronautic Award (2000); and the Sprit of St. Louis Medal, ASME (2001).
Dr. Widnall has been a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation, the Aerospace Corporation, a director of the Draper Laboratories, Chemical Fabrics Incorporated, GenCorp, and a trustee of the Boston Museum of Science. She was a member of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government and is currently a trustee of the Sloan Foundation and the Institute for Defense Analysis. She was also a member of the Accident Investigation Board for the Space Shuttle Columbia.