Advancing the Image of Engineering One Audience at a Time

Pioneers

Discovering WWII STEM Role Model: Margret (Maggie) Gee

During a visit last week, I was drawn to my 5-year old nephew Owen’s signed copy of  “Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee” by Marissa Moss. Owen’s mom, Frances, then told me the story of Maggie Gee – a Berkeley native Chinese American woman pilot who flew during WWII – as his dad, Chris, showed the pictures and video he took at the Las Positas College presentation and book signing where Maggie spoke a month earlier.   

It is always interesting to hear about the pioneers – those who were among the first in their fields helping pave the way for others to follow in their footsteps – and to hear their stories of what sparked their passion. For Maggie, it was her role model Amelia Earhart that got her interested in flying. 

My interest in Maggie grew when I read, in a simple footnote at the end of the book, that Maggie worked as a physicist after retiring as a pilot.  I keep turning the pages looking for more details and wondering if I had skipped a page or two of the book.  Any woman working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) during or immediately after WWII had to be setting firsts for women in her field, university or company. How did Maggie choose to study physics? What was her inspiration and drive? What helped keep her interests alive.

That night I found myself googling “Maggie Gee Physicist” to get to the rest of the story.  Believe it or not, I could not easily find her.  I had to use “Pilot” in the search. Wikipedia made no mention of her being a Physicist. I finally found a couple of links to help flesh out the story behind “Maggie Gee: Physicist“.

I suspect that many of the early women STEM pioneers may not recognize their contributions as paving the way for future generations.  By simply seeing someone who looks like them, having been there and succeed, can provide a sense of confidence for youths that they too can succeed in the field. It can turn what was an unthinkable career choice to one of possibility.

Help Honor the Women STEM Pioneers

I have one request for the WASP web page organizers, Wikipedia and book authors, or anyone whose mother or grandmother worked during WWII. Please help identify and publicize the women who pursued STEM careers. Highlight their successes in their STEM careers, tell us what degrees they earned where they worked. Share the successes for the generations to come with those who will be reading your page(s).  And by all means, include the bigger story in their biographical notes. 

The future of our nation depends on having a steady supply of STEM resources. Having visible and inspiring role models from our foremothers can help pave that way for girls and women in STEM.

We should all express our gratitude to the groups and individuals who took steps to memorialize the WWII WASPs: the effort to have them honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, writing books about them, inviting them to speak about their experiences. These help to bring light to many inspiring stories. Now if only we could find a way to make a children’s book about STEM as exciting as flying a fighter plane.

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Comments on: "Pioneers" (3)

  1. This was so impressive to me, too! A friend of mine opened my eyes to these wonderful women. There was also Hazel Ying Lee and Katherine Cheung who were also pilots during WWII. Very fascinating! I never knew there were female fighter pilots during the war.

    • It was a real eye opener for me too. There is much to be learned about these women pioneers. Not just pilots but women excelling in traditional male jobs during the war. To see them recognized for their service some 60 years later is rewarding – granted a little late – but rewarding none the less. Fortunately it was done while a few can still stand up and speak about their experiences. It speaks volumes to their personal perserverence to follow their passions.

  2. Chris Humphrey said:

    Maggie Gee passed away peacefully in her sleep on February 1, 2013.

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