Class of 1962, BS
Mary Virginia Berry (formerly Jones) has a record of attaining “firsts” for women engineers and her pioneering career represents the epitome of a lifetime of achievements. Her induction into the Virginia Tech College of Engineering Academy of Engineering Excellence is one more example.
For many years, her allegiance to her alma mater came at a time when she was truly the only active alumna who served as a role model to Virginia Tech’s female engineering students who aspired to become professional engineers. In 1998, the Society of Women Engineers awarded her the rank of Fellow for her contributions to women in engineering. She is routinely selected as a spokesperson on propulsion systems, engineering education, and women in the technical workforce.
Ms. Berry’s career spans more than four decades with Atlantic Research Corporation (ARC) where she started as a structural engineer. Recently, the company merged with Aerojet General Corporation and Ms. Berry was named the Executive Director of Virginia Engineering. For ARC, she had served as Director of Design Engineering, Configuration Management, and Knowledge Resources.
Ms. Berry’s technical achievements are admirable. Her expertise is in solid propellant rocket motor design. During the early part of her career, she conducted structural and thermal analysis of metal and plastics parts and solid propellant, as well as the mechanical design of hardware. She devoted part of her career as the Chief Engineer on the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). ARC subsequently produced more than 500,000 systems that created millions in revenues. In her role as the lead technical person for the projects, she headed the development of the process and design for molding motor nozzle from a thermosetting plastic that reduced the cost of the part by 90 percent.
Ms. Berry has dedicated her career to improving engineering in a defense-oriented industry. She has spent her professional life in a male-dominated field, and her contributions in the technical arena allowed her to move to management positions within ARC. Because of her direct experience in design engineering, she was able to bridge the gap between the technical needs and programmatic concerns that arise in a manufacturing environment, particularly in the areas of design integrity and verification versus cost and schedule.
When Ms. Berry moved into management, she was the first and remains the only woman at ARC to have held a director of engineering position. In 1992, the Society of Women Engineers gave her the Upward Mobility Award in recognition of her advancement in the engineering industry.
Her peers regarded Ms. Berry as the definitive expert on the engineering development of the rocket motors for the Multiple Launch Rocket Motor. During the time Ms. Berry was the chief engineer on this program, she achieved an 18 percent reduction in the cost of production of MLRS. The U.S. Army has made several commendations on the MLRS, all attesting to the robust design and high quality of the product. She also served as ARC’s Chief Design Engineer on the Tomahawk MK-106 Booster and the Army Stinger rocket motors.
“I don’t know of another company whose chief design engineer — the head of rocket motor design — is a woman. And she is a woman who worked her way up through the ranks of this business,” said Antonio L. Savoca in 1990 when he served as President and CEO of ARC.
In 1993, Ms. Berry’s technical expertise was highly complimented by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering. She, along with a number of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, was named to one of its national committees: the Advanced Space Technology of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.
In terms of career “firsts” as a woman, Mary Virginia Berry holds many distinctions. She was the first woman registered as a Professional Engineer by the Commonwealth of Virginia. This affiliation occurred five years after her graduation from Virginia Tech, Mechanical Engineering Class of 1962. (She was the only woman in her class.) She was the first woman appointed to the State Board of Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Landscape Architects, a position she held from 1984-88. She was the first woman engineer appointed by a Virginia Governor to serve on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, 1984-88. She was the first woman to receive her alma mater’s highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. Until about 12 years ago, she was the only woman to have served on the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Advisory Board. (She also chaired this board.) She was also the first woman to receive the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Service Award. During National Engineers’ Week in 2002, the District of Columbia Council of Engineering and Architectural Societies awarded her the “Engineer of the Year” award.
“I hope that I will always be able to serve Virginia Tech. If Tech had not admitted women in engineering, I certainly would not have had the wonderful career that I have experienced. When I started engineering, Virginia Tech had the only college of engineering in the Commonwealth that would admit women. It was not until Title IX that the other engineering schools were forced to offer equal opportunities to women. I will always be grateful for the opportunity,” Ms. Berry says.
Ms. Berry and her husband Dallas reside in Gainesville, Virginia.
Class of: 1962
Year Inducted into Academy: 2004