Women in STEM - Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson graduated from High School when she was 14, at a time when African American children in her home county were not even allowed to attend school past the 8th grade. After being one of the first African American women to West Virginia University's Graduate school, Katherine began working for NASA in 1953.
You may have learned about Katherine from the “Hidden Figures” movie in 2016. This feature was focused on her contributions and the team she worked with at NASA. Through that work, her calculations were critical to launching the first US Astronaut into space.
While the racial and gender barriers were always there, Katherine says she ignored them. Katherine was assertive, asking to be included in editorial meetings (where no women had gone before) and she simply told people she had done the work and that she belonged.
Her tenacity and refusal to claim victimhood have not been ignored. She is considered a major pioneer of space, mathematics, and computing, and in 2015 the Presidential Medal of Freedom was bestowed upon her by President Obama. That was followed up in 2019 with the Congressional Gold Medal, given to her by the United States Congress.
Katherine lived to be 101 years old and passed away on February 24, 2020.
Since her passing, she has had numerous schools named after her, as well as a satellite, and a spacecraft - the SS Katherine Johnson - which sent supplies to the International Space Station in late 2020.
For more information about Katherine:
And check out this video from National Geographic:
And if you want a fun "unplugged" activity to do with the kids, NASA created this paper doll project: