In 1941, Katharine Stinson became the first woman to graduate with an engineering degree from North Caroline State University. She was one of only five women nationwide to graduate with a degree in engineering that year.
A barrier -breaker from an early age, Stinson always knew she wanted to fly airplanes. In 1932, at the age of 15, she met her idol, Amelia Earhart, who encouraged the lanky Wake County teenager to follow her dream but also warned her that just being a pilot wouldn’t be enough to make a decent living. Stinson’s best bet for success, Earhart said, was to go to college and major in aeronautical engineering. Adhering to that advice, Stinson applied for admission to NC State but was told the university did not accept women as freshmen. Undaunted, she enrolled at nearby Meredith College, completed 48 credit hours in one year, and successfully enrolled at NC State the following autumn.
Her pioneering ways continued after graduation, when she became the first female engineer hired by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, now the Federal Aviation Administration. In 1953, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers. During her 32 years working for the FAA, she was responsible for many engineering firsts, including successfully converting light airplanes into gliders for pilot training during World War II and reconverting the trainers back to engined airplanes after the war.
Stinson has received numerous awards for her contributions to aerospace engineering, including the FAA Sustained Superior Performance Award; the Distinguished Women in the Aerospace Industry Award; and the Aviation Pioneer of the Year Award from the Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She was the first woman to serve on the board of directors of the NC State Alumni Association. In 1971, she became the first woman named a Distinguished Alumna of the College of Engineering.
She established the Katharine Stinson Scholarships for Women in Engineering in 1987, making it possible for other young women to pursue engineering degrees at NC State. In 1997, the street running from the university’s main visitor’s gate to the College of Engineering was renamed Stinson Drive in her honor.