By: West Virginia State University
West Virginia State University will host a Katherine Johnson Day Observance on Friday, Aug. 25, at 12:30 p.m. at the site of her statue on campus. Aug. 26 was Johnson’s birthday and the day has previously been declared Katherine Johnson Day in West Virginia by the state Legislature. The program will feature a wreath laying at the statue and also brief remarks about Johnson’s life and legacy and impact on not only her alma mater but the nation and world.
Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, the highest award that can be bestowed upon a civilian. A native of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson first came to the Institute at the age of 10 to attend the high school that used to be part of West Virginia State’s campus. After graduating from high school at age 15, she immediately enrolled in college classes at West Virginia State. Johnson excelled in her studies and graduated summa cum laude in 1937 at the age of 18 with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and French.
Johnson’s pioneering work as a “computer” at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and later at NASA, was widely recognized following publication of the book, “Hidden Figures,” and by the movie of the same name. As a computer, she calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations before his flight aboard Friendship 7.
In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields. Johnson worked at the agency until 1986, when she retired after 33 years of service. During her tenure at NASA, she received many prestigious awards. Among them were the NASA Lunar Orbiter Award and three NASA Special Achievement Awards. She was named Mathematician of the Year in 1997 by the National Technical Association.
In September 2017, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, named its newest building after her — The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility.
On Aug. 25, 2018, the day before Johnson’s 100th birthday, WVSU dedicated an endowed scholarship and plaza featuring a statue in Johnson’s honor.
Johnson passed away in February 2020.