Yvonne Young Clark, MS’72, First Lady of Engineering

“Y.Y.” Clark at the beginning of her groundbreaking career. Photo courtesy Society of Women Engineers

“Y.Y.” Clark at the
beginning of her groundbreaking career. Photo courtesy Society of Women Engineers

Yvonne Young Clark, the first woman to earn a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Howard University, the first woman to earn a master’s degree in engineering management from the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, and the first woman to serve as a faculty member in the College of Engineering and Technology at Tennessee State University, died Jan. 27 at her home in Nashville. She was 89.

Affectionately called “TSU’s First Lady of Engineering,” Clark taught mechanical engineering for 55 years in the College of Engineering and Technology, where she also served twice as chair of the mechanical engineering department. She encouraged women to become engineers and reported in 1997 that 25 percent of the students in the mechanical engineering department were female.

A year after her college graduation from Howard University in 1951, Y.Y.—as she was known professionally—integrated the Society of Women Engineers. She served on its executive committee and was elected to its College of Fellows in 1984. Clark received SWE’s Distinguished Engineering Educator Award in 1998.

Clark graduated from high school in 1945 at 16 and spent the next two years studying in Boston before entering Howard University in Washington, D.C. She was the only woman in her graduation class of 300 engineering students and graduated with top honors. However, she was not allowed to march with her male classmates. Instead, she received her diploma in the office of the university president.

After receiving numerous job rejections because of her gender, Clark worked at Frankford Arsenal Gauge Labs in Philadelphia before moving to the Electronic Tube Division of RCA in Montclair, New Jersey. She was 25, and she designed electrical equipment with 18 male colleagues.

After her 1955 marriage to William F. “Bill” Clark Jr., Clark moved to Nashville and was hired as an engineering professor at Tennessee State University. During summer breaks she worked in a variety of engineering jobs. Clark spent many summers at Frankfort Arsenal doing research on recoilless weapons. She also spent a summer working with NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, investigating Saturn V booster engines for hot spots. She then worked a summer at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, designing containers for moon samples to return to Earth. Clark did further research through Westinghouse’s Defense and Space Center in Baltimore.

In the 1990s her research focused on refrigerants. She was the main investigator for the research project “Experimental Evaluation of the Performance of Alternative Refrigerants in Heat Pump Cycles,” funded by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In addition to SWE, Clark was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering and the American Society of Engineering Education. She received numerous awards throughout her lifetime, including the Women of Color Technology Award for Educational Leadership by U.S. Black Engineers, Distinguished Service Award by the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers, President’s Distinguished University Award from TSU, and Mechanism of the Year Award given by the TSU student chapter of ASME.

Preceded in death by her husband, Clark is survived by her brother, son and daughter, and their families.

—BRENDA ELLIS


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