Annie Easley

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Annie Easley

Annie Jean Easley (born April 23, 1933 in Birmingham; died June 25, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio) is a mathematician and computer scientist who helped develop power technology analysis software for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Easley was the daughter of Bud and Willie Sims McCrory of Birmingham. She was raised by her mother, a great encourager, and excelled in school. She was the valedictorian of her graduating class at Holy Family High School. She had been planning to study nursing, but, during high school became interested in learning to be a pharmacist. She enrolled at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana to study pharmacology.

After two years, Easley returned home to Birmingham and worked as a substitute teacher. She was able to register to vote and helped her neighbors apply for the ballot. In 1954 she married a former serviceman and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where her husband's parents lived. She had planned to continue her studies at the Case Institute of Technology's School of Pharmacy, but that school became a casualty as Case consolidated with Western Reserve University across town. With the next nearest program located 150 miles away in Columbus, she decided to forego her continued education and looked for work.

In 1955 Easley read in the newspaper about twin sisters working as "computers" for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Cleveland's Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory. She thought it sounded like interesting work. She was accepted after an interview and began performing calculations by hand or on large desktop calculators, and looking up functions in printed tables. When the laboratory received its first electronic computers, she and her colleagues were trained to operate them with punch cards and were given the title of "math technicians". As the machines advanced, so did she. Soon she would give instructions to hired keypunchers and machine operators. She programmed in the SOAP and FORTRAN languages.

NACA became part of NASA in 1957 and Easley's work ramped up from calculations and graphing to development of software programs for analysis. She contributed to simulations for the construction of the nuclear reactor at Plum Brook; analyzed energy utilization for Centaur rocket stages, helped design an icing research tunnel, and performed analysis of energy use for battery-powered vehicles.

In the late 1960s Easley returned to school, taking one evening class at a time at first. By the early 1970s she was divorced and started carrying a full class load while working a 40-hour week. She earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Cleveland State University in 1977 and moved from Computer Services to the Energy Directorate. Though NASA had a program to grant leave and pay for employee education, her supervisors routinely turned down her requests, so she used her own time and money. She later qualified for in-house continuing education.

Throughout her career, Easley volunteered as a tutor to school children. She also participated in productions of a Christmas program done by NASA employees for area children, and was part of NASA's speakers bureau and traveled as a recruiter at colleges and universities. Later she worked as a counselor in NASA's equal employment opportunity office. She retired in December 1989.

In her off hours, Easley became interested in skiing and snowboarding, serving as president of the Lewis Ski Club and the Cleveland Metro Ski Council. She took real estate classes and began working as an independent agent and traveling to ski resorts around the world. She also ran competitively and played tennis and golf.

References

  • Warren, Wini (1999) Black Women Scientists in the United States. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press pp. 87-8
  • Johnson, Sandra (August 21, 2001) "Annie J. Easley" NASA Oral History interview
  • "Annie Jean Easley" obituary (June 28, 2011) The Plain Dealer