The late Mary Golda Ross holds the distinction of being the first Native American female engineer, and her work in the 1950s was crucial to the development of the U.S.'s space program, but her career path was an unlikely one, to say the least.
She was born in 1908 in Park Hill, Oklahoma, and grew up in the Cherokee Nation capital of Talequah. She was obviously adept at math and science, and earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics (from Northeastern State Teachers' College) and a master's degree (from Colorado State Teachers' College), and spent nine years teaching math and science in rural Oklahoma. With the start of World War II, she moved to California and was hired in 1942 by Lockheed Martin as a mathematician. During the war, she worked on improving fighter planes, but her dream was to explore the possibilities of interplanetary space travel. After the war, she got her chance; following a stint at UCLA (where she got her engineering certification) she became one of the 40 founding engineers of Lockeed's Skunk Works, where she developed design concepts for interplanetary travel and satellites. She also worked on the design of ballistic misiles, and rockets that were part of the Apollo lunar mission.