Botetourt native becomes first Black woman to earn Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Cornell

Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 6:49 AM EDT

BOTETOURT Co., Va. (WDBJ) - A Lord Botetourt High School alumna made history at an Ivy League university after earning a well-respected degree.

Dr. Nialah Wilson-Small successfully defended her dissertation and became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Cornell University.

Dr. Wilson-Small began her academic career in Botetourt and was involved in many robotics and STEM programs in school and in the community.

She was also a track and field champion. She was the record holder for the 100-meter hurdles at Lord Botetourt High School and the Cosmopolitan Invitational Track Meet record holder for the 100-meter hurdles.

After high school, she received her bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Howard University before attending Cornell.

Dr. Wilson-Small says so many people inspired her and she hopes to do the same for the next generation.

“In high school, my biggest inspirations were Madame Marie Curie, a physicist in the 20th century, I took a chemistry class in high school, we learned about her and I was just super inspired by her story. And more recently, Dr. Mae Jemison, who’s the first Black woman to go into space. So they were definitely pillars in inspiring me to want to be in STEM,” said Dr. Wilson-Small.

She wants students back home and going back to school to remember to never give up.

Dr. Wilson-Small will head to NYU next as an industry assistant professor in its school of engineering.

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