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Belinda Jones


Standing on Her Shoulders

Dr. Bonnie Dunbar wows at CMSC 2019

Published: Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 20:22

Women who crashed the glass ceiling in male-dominated fields have compelling stories about the trajectory of their careers. These days, I think a lot about those inadvertent role models, thankful for their determination to pursue big dreams so I could pursue mine. Trailblazers like Dr. Bonnie Dunbar built a door and opened it to generations of women willing to take on the trials and tribulations of making it in a competitive and closed work environment. Women in technical fields such as engineering and metrology are standing on their shoulders, well positioned to “see more and see farther” into the future than ever before. 

When I heard former astronaut Dr. Bonnie Dunbar would be a special guest and speaker at the Coordinate Metrology Society Conference this year, I instantly became a fan girl. I researched her background, hit YouTube, immersed myself in the Dunbar lore, and wrote a press release announcing her visit. I read about her childhood as a young girl living on an isolated ranch in Washington state in the early 1950s. The oldest of four children and the daughter of a Marine Corps vet, she grew up in an environment where education was valued and girls had equal status to the boys. It was reported that Bonnie was driving a tractor by the age of 9. At an early age, she was attracted to tools and developed an interest in figuring out how things work.


Dr. Dunbar turned her gaze toward the stars in 1957, the year when Sputnik was launched by the Soviets. She was just 8 years old when the very first man-made vehicle was put into the Earth's orbit. Dunbar got her start at The Rockwell International Space Division Company building Space Shuttle Columbia. She then worked for 27 years at NASA, first as a flight controller and then as a mission specialist astronaut, where she flew five space shuttle flights, logging more than 50 days in space.

She then served for seven years as a member of the NASA Senior Executive Service (SES). Her executive service included assistant NASA JSC director for university research, deputy director for Flight Crew Operations, Associate Director for ISS Mission Operations development, and as NASA headquarters deputy associate administrator for the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications (OLMSA). She also served as part of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident investigation team.

In 2013, Dunbar was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. She is highly decorated, receiving the NASA Space Flight Medal five times, the NASA Exceptional Leadership Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. Dr. Dunbar is currently a TEES Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, at Texas A&M University. She is the director of the Institute for Engineering Education Innovation (IEEI). Dr. Dunbar holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ceramic engineering from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in mechanical/biomedical engineering from the University of Houston.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Dunbar came to Texas A&M from the University of Houston where she was an M.D. Anderson Professor of Mechanical Engineering. There she provided leadership in the development of a new integrated university science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) center and was Director of the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston. She was also director of the master’s program in aerospace engineering directed the SICSA space architecture and aerospace graduate programs.

I would like to extend a sincere thank you to Dr. Bonnie Dunbar for her incredible presentation at the annual CMS banquet, and for taking time to meet attendees at two earlier networking events. I was particularly happy to see so many young women in attendance, who walked away genuinely inspired by her presence and contributions to science and engineering.

Next, I want to recognize Scott Sandwith, 2019 CMSC Chair, who made it a priority for CMS to pay tribute to the women who have played a key role, past and present, in the history of metrology.

With deep gratitude, this fan girl is proud to stand on the shoulders of Dr. Dunbar and the trailblazing women who have come before us. I have an autographed postcard keepsake (thank you, Rina) in hand that will be cherished and in due time passed down to another young woman with stars in her eyes in pursuit of a moon-sized life's dream.


About The Author

Belinda Jones’s picture

Belinda Jones

Belinda Jones is the founder and owner of HiTech Marketing LLC, in Westbrook, Connecticut. For more than a decade, Jones has written articles and commentaries about manufacturing, engineering, quality assurance, CAD/CAM/CAE applications, and other high-tech topics. She has extensive experience in marketing communications, technical sales, and applications engineering. Before joining the computer industry, she was a broadcast copywriter for four years. Jones holds degrees in fine arts and mechanical engineering, and studied cultural arts in Europe.