Thomasina Wright has often been the first African American and first woman to hold key roles at Newport News Shipbuilding during her nearly 40-year career at the shipyard.

Trailblazing Career Earns National Recognition

Published March 15, 2022

Thomasina Wright began working at Newport News Shipbuilding in 1983, aiming to apply her lifelong love of science and math to the complex task of building nuclear-powered Navy ships.

She’s done that, and much more.

Wright led more than 4,000 shipbuilders and managed a $3 billion budget in overhauling USS George Washington (CVN 73), and is currently overseeing the refueling and complex overhaul for USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).

Wright is the first Black female program director at NNS, and over the years was often the first African American and first woman to hold key roles as she rose through the ranks.

Her trailblazing career has now garnered national recognition: Wright recently earned a Career Achievement Award at the Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) 2022 STEM Conference.

Her shipyard career has been marked by a thirst for education and a determination to face challenges head on. She came to NNS after graduating from high school, then graduated from The Apprentice School in less than three years, but she wasn’t finished with classwork.

“During my apprenticeship, I knew I wanted to continue my education and get my engineering degree,” she said.

She earned that degree in 1989. After a manager noticed Wright’s leadership abilities, she ended up supervising men old enough to be her father, “and in some cases, even my grandfather,” she recalled with a chuckle.

Some were skeptical. She recalled having to recite her resume and educational background to those who wondered if she belonged. But she turned that into a positive.

“With those challenges, it definitely made me work harder, to make sure that I proved myself that I belong in a position, not because I’m a minority female,” she said. “I have the technical background. I have the experience. I have the ability to perform the work.”

She became interested in the business side of shipbuilding, and later received an MBA from the College of William & Mary. Now she finds herself mentoring others who are climbing the company ladder.

“Being the first female in a lot of these positions, it puts that role-model stress on me, to make sure that I do excel, not for my personal satisfaction but for the folks behind me,” she said. “That stress is bigger than running a $3 billion program.”