How to Break Barriers and Soar: My Family’s Story of an Engineering Pioneer

BWM West
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How to Break Barriers and Soar:My Family’s Story of an Engineering Pioneer

Growing up, she was simply my second cousin, Yvonne. Someone I looked forward to seeing on my summer visits to Nashville, Tennessee, my mother’s hometown.

Little did I know she was also a pioneer — a badass Black woman who refused to let the barriers of the day keep her down.

No matter the obstacle, Yvonne “Y.Y.” Clark, started by asking herself: “How do we fix this?” An approach instilled in her by her parents, Dr. Coleman Milton Young, Jr. and Hortense Houston Young.

Whether it was fixing the family toaster as a child or teaching herself to stop stuttering, Y.Y. figured out at an early age how to turn a challenge into a triumph.

Nashville’s Own Hidden Figure

Her list of firsts is long:

First woman to receive a mechanical engineering degree from Howard University (1951).

First African American member of the Society of Women Engineers (1952)

First woman engineer hired as an instructor at Tennessee State University (TSU) (1955)

And many more which you can find here.

She even worked for NASA, helping to design the box that would carry moon rocks back to Earth.

Nashville’s own “Hidden Figure”.


How did I not know this?!?!

Which brings me to a lesson learned in sharing this episode with you.

Your Family’s Story Matters

Your family’s story matters. Don’t take it for granted.

I knew bits and pieces of this story, but sadly, it took another podcast to make me sit up and pay homage to my own family’s story.

The Lost Women of Science is an extraordinary podcast highlighting the stories and accomplishments of women whose contributions may not have received the recognition they deserve.

Women like my cousin, Yvonne, who is featured in multiple episodes this season.

So I reached out to Yvonne’s daughter, my cousin, Carol Lawson, and asked her to join me in conversation about her mom.

We hadn’t seen each other in a long time so it was great to reconnect — even more so, to hear Carol’s perspective on her mother’s legacy.

And what we can all learn from it today.

If I may say so, this is a terrific episode to listen to with family over the holiday. Perhaps it will spark conversation about your own family’s story.

I hope you will take a few minutes to enjoy my conversation with Carol, learn about her extraordinary mother, and then check out the Lost Women of Science podcast to go even deeper.

Yvonne, Y.Y. Clark.

Trailblazer. Beloved professor and mentor at Tennessee State University. My cousin.

Love you, Yvonne. And thank you for the legacy you left our family and the world.

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