Roberta Nichols Yakel Endowed Scholarship Fund
History and Purpose
Dr. Roberta Nichols Yakel led an ambitious life. She earned her BS, MS, and doctorate while working full time and raising two children. In 1958, she joined the Space Technology Laboratory (STL), one of the prime contractors for the Air Force Space programs. She was inspired by her father who worked in the aviation industry for over 40 years. When Congress formed the Aerospace Corporation in 1960, she was transferred there where she remained for 19 years until she went to Ford Motor Company, assuming responsibility for development of their alternative fuel vehicles. As Dr. Nichols stated: "Sustainable, clean energy became my passion." During her 38-year tenure in developing this kind of technology, she testified before and advised both state and the federal governments on energy usage. Two years after she retired in 1995, she was one of only 37 women who, since the organization's incipience in 1964, had been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, considered the "highest honor accorded an engineer." She was both a Fellow of the Society of Automotive Engineers and of the Society of Women Engineers and held three patents for the Flexible Fuel Vehicle.
Her hobbies were numerous and included downhill skiing, drag boat racing, time trail racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats and vintage car racing. Matt Barth, a colleague of Dr. Nichols Yakel said of her:" She had a great sense of humor and a strong knowledge of herself." In a speech given to the Society of Women Engineers she stated, "Not all of us get to realize our dreams, but it is important to have them and never give up on trying to attain them. It is amazing what can happen when you want something bad enough."
She hoped that every young person, whether male or female, who heard her story would be inspired to pursue a career in engineering. Dr. Nichols passed away in 2005.
Established in 2004 by Dr. Roberta Nichols Yakel, the Dr. Roberta Nichols Yakel Endowed Scholarship is used to provide scholarship assistance for undergraduate students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Bourns College of Engineering.
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