Nelda Lee never set out to receive awards for her work in the engineering and aviation field.
Instead, she was focused on her education and applying such education to her field of work, and along the way she just so happened to land a number of awards and recognitions.
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Lee, who grew up on a farm in Aliceville, Alabama, followed her father’s legacy and earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn in 1969.
She then became the second woman to graduate from Auburn with such a degree, according to the engineering website.
After graduation, she began a career with McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, a career that stretched over 45 years to her retirement in 2014.
With a list of accomplishments, such as earning the Boeing Pride Award 13 times and being inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2004, it seems as it would be difficult to say one accomplishment is greater than another.
However, that is not the case with Lee. Ask the retired Boeing design and flight-test engineer which accomplishment was the most memorable in her 45-year career in designing some of the most advanced jets in the world and there is no uncertainty.
“I got to grab the stick of an F-15, and under the watchful hand of Boeing test pilot Gary Jennings, a certified instructor, I got to fly the plane,” Lee said.
While a number of other women may have flown in the F-15 Eagle prior to her, Lee said she was certainly the first licensed woman to record flying time in an F-15.
Lee, who serves as inspiration to a new generation of women in aerospace, as she is a part of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s 100 Women Strong, left behind a lifetime of donations to aviation and the F-15 air superiority fighter program.
Beth Celli, Lee’s friend and Boeing F-15 systems engineer, said Lee is an inspiration to her and many others.
“Every time I think of flight test, I think of her [Lee],” Celli said. “She just really represents women well, that women are strong communicators and strong with their interactions with people.”
Joining the aerospace workforce and McDonnell Douglas at a time when there were fewer women aerospace engineers in the industry than there are today, Lee didn’t see herself as a trailblazer and was not going to let gender hold her back.
“I came here to work,” Lee said. “Those guys did the same, so I figured let’s do this together, and I was accepted and that was great.”
While some would buckle under adversity, especially with a large company such as Boeing, Lee said she never considered the statistics when attending Auburn or in the work field upon graduation but merely set out to accomplish her goals as she was taught to do.
“I didn’t pay attention to the statistics,” Lee said. “I grew up in a family where if you wanted to be a truck driver, you could be a truck driver and do whatever you wanted. Therefore, I wanted to be an engineer, so I went to Auburn to be an engineer.”
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