Shirley Ann Jackson came of age right when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite. The Soviet success prompted American schools to emphasize math and science, subjects that captured Jackson's imagination. After graduating as valedictorian of her high-school class, Jackson became the first African American woman at MIT to earn a doctorate.
Today, as president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jackson is campaigning for a renewed focus on math and science education. Many U.S. scientists and engineers are retiring, she says, but American educators aren't doing enough to attract replacements, especially among women and minorities. This "quiet crisis," as Jackson calls it, is exacerbating another problem: meeting America's energy needs. "We cannot just drill our way to energy security," says Jackson. "We have to innovate our way." The solution? Tap today's scientists to teach middle- and high-school students. After all, "it's their grandchildren and the future of their grandchildren that are at stake here."
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.