Widnall Nomination Expected SoonBy Eva Moy
President Clinton announced his intention to nominate Professor Sheila E. Widnall ScD '64 to be the Secretary of the Air Force July 2. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to head one of the military services.
Widnall is currently associate provost and professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.
"I am very proud to be making this announcement," Clinton said in his announcement. "Sheila Widnall is a woman of high achievement -- a respected scientist, a skilled administrator, and a dedicated citizen. I am confident that she will do an outstanding job of guiding the Air Force through this period of post-Cold War change."
Nomination timetable unknown
Although Clinton's announcement came on July 2, the actual nomination and confirmation processes take much longer. Thus, the schedule of events is not entirely clear.
Currently, Widnall is in Washington, D.C., receiving briefings to "get her up to speed on the state of the Air Force," according to Major Connie Custer from the Air Force press desk.
Widnall is also paying courtesy calls to the 22 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who will investigate her background and make a recommendation to the full Senate, Custer said. After a 24-hour grace period, the full Senate will vote on her nomination.
There are many obstacles holding up this process. First, the White House has not sent the paperwork to officially nominate Widnall. Second, Congress will close session after August 6 and reconvene after Labor Day.
"There's a possibility that if the White House sends the paperwork in the next few days and if everything works" Widnall can be confirmed before the recess, Custard said.
Although Widnall has never served in the Air Force, she has been an advisor on various military boards. These include: Chairman of the Air Force Academy's board of visitors, member of the military airlift committee of National Defense Transportation Association, member of the National Academy of Science's Panel on Scientific Responsibility and the Conduct of Research, the first director of university research at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and adviser on aeronautic systems at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton Ohio.
Widnall was also the fifth woman president of the American Association for the Advanement of Sciences. As president and chairman of AAAS, she testified on numerous occasions to Congressional committees dealing with issues of research, science education, and research faculty funding.
Back at MIT, Widnall has also been a strong force in these issues. As associate provost since January, 1992, Widnall has dealt with the issues of MIT's policies and procedures for promotion and tenure policies, a study on mandatory faculty retirement, MIT's international relationships, and the Council on Federal Relations.
Widnall also had a strong interest in academic integrity at MIT, both with students and researchers. She was a member of the Committee on Discipline and supported the idea of having an honor code for students.
She was also the first woman faculty chairman at MIT.
As an engineer, Widnall also carries many distinctions. She was the first alumna appointed to the faculty in the School of Engineering, and received the 1986 Abby Rockerfeller Mauze Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Award.
In addition, Widnall is internationally known for her expertise in fluid dynamics, specifically in the areas of aircraft turbulene and vortices created by helicopters. She also holds two patents, one of which is an aerodynamic device for either water or air craft.