Growing up, Shirley Ann Jackson enjoyed working on science projects for school with her dad. Sometimes it was a big poster with information about what she did, sometimes it was pots full of little plants to find out what would happen if she fed them differently.
Shirley also liked numbers. Figuring out complicated math problems was fun to her.
All the kids around would tease her sometimes because she wasn’t like them. She liked to play, but she liked to play different kinds of games than the other kids. When they were playing tag, she was studyingwhat made the inch worm choose its direction. When the other kids were playing dress up, Shirley was guessing which of her friends would choose what outfit and knew the reason why.
Every time she came across a big problem, Shirley would stop and think about it for a minute. She would decide what she felt was the right approach to finding the answer and follow that feeling. To follow the feeling, she would set up a step-by-step process.
She says she learned how to “break the problems down into parts that can more easily be solved.”
So, instead of looking at the world and thinking she wanted to be the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT (something that’s really, really hard), she looked at the pieces she needed to do to make it happen.
First, she needed to get through elementary school. Then she needed to get through middle school. Next, she would need to get through high school. Finally, she would need to get through her first part of college.
Today, Shirley Jackson is the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a famous scientist in physics, something most girls didn’t think was even possible. But Shirley knew girls could achieve anything they set their minds to. And now you know how – just take one step at a time!