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Honorary doctorate recipient

Frances Northcutt

Doctor of Science (DSc), 2024
For her work as an engineer and women’s rights advocate

First hired as a “computress” at NASA contractor TRW, Inc., in the 1960s, Frances “Poppy” Northcutt was quickly promoted, becoming NASA’s first female engineer. 

She became a return-to-Earth specialist starting with the Apollo 8 mission, the first to orbit the Moon. She continued in the role through Apollo 11 — the first mission to land on the Moon — and was part of the team that guided the Apollo 13 astronauts after their spacecraft suffered a near-catastrophic explosion. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Team Award alongside her colleagues for successfully returning the Apollo 13 astronauts home.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Northcutt noticed the inferior pay women received and the harassment they endured, practices typical of engineering firms and beyond at the time. She fought for better maternity leave policies at TRW. As a board member for the National Organization for Women, she gave speeches and helped stage demonstrations, organize strikes and write press releases for the nascent women’s liberation movement.

In 1974, Northcutt became the City of Houston’s first Women’s Advocate, helping pass legislation to improve the status of women. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in 1981, she transitioned to a career as a criminal defence lawyer. In her law practice, she emphasized civil rights, working to protect pregnant minors and victims of domestic violence.

Today, Northcutt provides legal advice to pregnant teenagers and helps educate young voters and immigrant women on the importance of participating in the political process.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024 - Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science (3pm ceremony)

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