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Gwendolyn E. Boyd Biography

Became an Engineer, Joined the APL Administration, Led Delta Sigma Theta, Devoted Herself to Service


Engineer, activist

As the 22nd national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the nation's largest black sorority, in her career as an engineer at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, and in her dedicated community service, Gwendolyn E. Boyd has been a prominent advocate for women's equality and for the recruitment of black Americans into science and engineering.

Became an Engineer

Born on December 27, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd was the daughter of Dora Lee McClain, a single parent and domestic worker. Attending public schools in Montgomery, Boyd enjoyed math and science. She began to think that she might become an engineer, although she had no role models or knowledge of what engineers did. However while attending Alabama State University on a four-year scholarship, Boyd realized that engineering was a profession in which she could apply her interests in mathematics and science to practical problems. In 1977 she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and a double minor in physics and music.

A graduate fellowship enabled Boyd to enter the Yale University School of Engineering where she was the only woman and the only black among her program's 25 students. Specializing in acoustics, Boyd earned her master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1979 and went to work for IBM in Kingston, New York.

The following year Boyd joined the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) as a team engineer. For almost two decades in APL's Strategic Systems Department, Boyd used her background in acoustics to test and evaluate submarine navigation systems for the Department of the Navy. Most of her research work remained classified.

Joined the APL Administration

In 1998 Boyd combined her scientific background with her administrative skills—garnered through years of community service—to become the APL Assistant for Development Programs. In this role she served as liaison for APL's external programs, including research programs at other universities.

Boyd helped develop the Atlas Scholars Program—the APL Technology Leaders Summer Internship Program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Minority Institutions. ATLAS provides paid summer internships for qualified college seniors majoring in electrical engineering and computer science.

The president of JHU appointed Boyd to the JHU Diversity Leadership Council, which worked to expand diversity among the university's faculty, staff, and student body. Boyd served as chair of the Council between 2003 and 2005. In 2004 Boyd became executive assistant to the APL chief of staff.

Led Delta Sigma Theta

Delta Sigma Theta (DST) was founded in 1913 at Howard University. DST membership included more than 250,000 college-educated black American women by 2004. With more than 950 chapters throughout the United States, as well as in Japan, Korea, Germany, and elsewhere, DST is the country's largest organization of black women. As a private non-profit organization, DST's programs and services are concentrated in five areas: economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health, and political awareness and involvement.

In September of 2000, at the 45th annual DST convention in Chicago, 15,000 members elected Boyd as their national president. Boyd told Denise Barnes of the Washington Times on March 8, 2002: "Our organization was founded by women who were activists and those who led change in their day, and the Deltas continue through our 89 years of existence. As we see issues affecting the growth and development of community and family, we must speak out."

Boyd was true to her convictions. On March 9, 2002, DST held a national day of service to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS among black Americans. That same year, Boyd was able to present Howard University with $1 million that had been raised by Deltas.

Drawing on her experiences at APL, Boyd oversaw the 2003 launch of the Delta SEE Connection, a five-year initiative promoting "Science and Everyday Experiences." In conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and funding from the National Science Foundation, SEE was a component of a broader effort to encourage women and minorities to consider careers in science and engineering. Delta SEE radio programs, primarily distributed to HBCU and other stations with large black audiences, featured interviews with black scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. In conjunction with the Delta Research and Education Foundation, the SEE program also produced websites and various print materials, including science pages for children and their families in black newspapers. Individual Delta chapters functioned as informal scientific resources.

That same year Boyd introduced the Delta Homeownership Initiative, a partnership between DST and GE Mortgage Insurance designed to assist DST members and their families and friends with purchasing homes. PR Newswire quoted Boyd: "African Americans are missing out on a brighter financial future by not taking full advantage of one of the most powerful tools for wealth accumulation available to them. We're very happy to be teaming with GE Mortgage Insurance to help our sisters and others break the rental cycle and create a personal homeownership plan. We want to show them how the home they've dreamed of could become a reality."

Devoted Herself to Service

Boyd joined the board of directors of United Way of the National Capital Area in 1984. Between 1997 and 2001, a period during which questions arose concerning the finances and governance of the regional agency, Boyd served as board chair.

At a Glance …

Born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd on December 27, 1955, in Montgomery, AL. Education: Alabama State University, BA, mathematics, 1977; Yale University, MS, mechanical engineering, 1979. Religion: African Methodist Episcopal.

Career: John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, engineer, 1980-98, assistant for development programs, 1998-2004, executive assistant to the chief of staff, 2004–.

Selected memberships: Society of Women Engineers, 1980–; The Links, Inc., 1983–, area parliamentarian, 1993-2002; United Way of the National Capital Area, board of directors 1984–, chair 1997-2001; Children's National Medical Center-Children's Hospital, board of directors, 1996–, Parent's Board and Children's Research Institute Board, 1998–; Delta Sigma Theta, national first vice president, 1996-2000, national president, 2000-2004, immediate past national president, 2004–.

Selected awards: Black Engineer of the Year, Outstanding Alumnus Achievement, 2000; Black AIDS Institute, "Heroes in the Struggle," 2004; Johns Hopkins University Women's Network, Women's Leadership Award, 2004; U. S. Secretary of Energy, Special Recognition Award, 2004; Lincoln University, honorary doctorate of humane letters, 2005.

Addresses: Office—John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 11100 Johns Hopkins Road, Laurel, MD 20723.

Boyd joined the board of directors of the APL Federal Credit Union in 1993, eventually serving as vice-chair and chair. As of 2004 she was immediate-past chair. She was the founding chair of the board of directors of the National Partnership for Community Leadership, based in Washington, D.C. Boyd also served as the Honorary Vice Chairperson for the Bethune Visionary Committee Bronze Statue Project. In 2004 she joined the ministerial staff of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Fort Washington, Maryland. In 2005 Boyd joined the national board of the Alzheimer's Foundation.

Boyd told Contemporary Black Biography in November of 2004 that she was particularly proud of her work since 1994 as a mentor with the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Record numbers of minority students from this program have gone on to pursue doctoral research in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology.

In addition, Boyd served on the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Foundation Board, on the Advisory Council of the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Physical Science at Tuskegee University, and as a member of the Metropolitan Area Network of Minority Women in Science. In 2005 Boyd joined the Bennett College for Women Board of Visitors.

Recognized for Her Achievements

Boyd has been the recipient of the "Find the Good and Praise It" Service Award from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and the 1996 Black Engineer of the Year Public Service Award. A member of the Leadership Washington class of 1996, she served on the board of directors from 1996 until 1999 and received their Outstanding Alumnus Award. Her many other awards include the Outstanding Service Award from the Howard County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Community Service Award of the United Way, both in 1998, and the National Trio Achievers Award of the National Council of Educational Opportunity Associations. Boyd has received congressional citations and acknowledgements in the Congressional Record and has been presented with keys from more than 20 cities, for of which have declared "Gwendolyn E. Boyd Days."

Ebony named Boyd among the "100+ Organization Leaders" in 2001 and 2002 and among the "100+ Most Influential Black Americans" in 2003 and 2004. In 2003 she was recognized by US Black Engineer magazine as one of the nation's "Most Distinguished Black College and University Graduates."

As a sought-after lecturer, Boyd frequently addressed groups ranging from small classrooms to international conferences. In addition to technical presentations, her subjects have included non-profit board development, leadership development, black American history and women's history, as well as inspirational and motivational topics.

In March of 2004, as reported in America's Intelligence Wire, Boyd spoke at the U. S. Department of Energy's Office of Economic Impact and Diversity celebration of National Women's History and National African American Months: "Women are everywhere and doing everything.… We need to make sure that we celebrate those women who challenged the debate, those who have been part of making the change, those who know that education is the key, and that knowledge is powerful."



America's Intelligence Wire, March 24, 2004.

Jet, September 11, 2000.

PR Newswire, September 9, 2003.

Science, June 27, 2003, pp. 2050-51.

Washington Times, March 8, 2002, p. B04.


"APL Minority Initiatives," JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, www.jhuapl.edu/education/minority/minorityinit.html (December 1, 2004).

"Biographical Statement for Gwendolyn E. Boyd," Black AIDS Institute, www.blackaids.org/gwen%20boyd%20bio.doc (December 1, 2004).


Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Gwendolyn Boyd on November 20, 2004.

—Margaret Alic

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