Auburn Women

Nelda Lee ’69

Nelda Lee '69, the only woman in Aeronautical Engineering

I was an aerospace engineering student from June 1964 to March 1969. I don’t remember exactly when this story happened, but I was taking thermodynamics, or structural dynamics, or physics, or a similar difficult class. My mother made my clothes in those days as money was not available for buying clothes and going to college at the same time. She had made me a corduroy bright yellow jumper… the style of the day. The girls wore dresses or skirts to class back then. Well, I had a difficult test and “aced” it that day and, because I had the jumper on, I assumed that made a difference. The yellow jumper became my attire when I had to take a test. Everyone knew when I had a test because I wore that jumper all the time! Wonder what happened to it…?

Nelda Lee, 1968 Glomerata photo

My senior year, I had to take a 4-hour elective to graduate. I don’t recall what elective it was, but for me I had another elective in mind. I had decided that if I could take flying lessons, then I would be a better aerospace engineer. I had asked my dad if I could borrow the money from him for flying lessons, assuming I could get approval to take ground and flight lessons. He said yes and gave me $600 (if my memory is right). Ground and flight lessons were not part of the aerospace engineering curriculum, so I had to go to the dean and get approval to replace the 4-hour elective I needed with ground and flight training. The dean approved and said ground class would be 3 hours credit and flying would be 1 hour credit. That was September 1968. At that time, I had only been in an airplane one time in my life and that was a single-engine Bonanza for about half hour for a fun ride in Pickens County with dad’s friend. I started lessons and on the first flight I turned a gross shade of green. The instructor said “are you sure you want to do this?” I said “I have to do this to graduate… I cannot quit”! I earned my FAA private single engine land license in March 1969 along with my BS in aerospace engineering……..Whew that was close!

Nelda Lee '69

In 1949 when I was 3 and almost 4, my sister was born in Opelika. At that time my dad was a student in mechanical engineering and there was no baby sitter, so dad would take me with him to his physics class. Mom made me a backpack for my coloring book. I was excited to be going to my favorite class with my dad… for him it was ‘physics,’ but for me it was ‘piz-ics’. That was in 1949. Well I finally finished ‘piz-ics’ in 1969 and graduated with a BSAE degree. Now you know the rest of the story.