Budding mathematicians call Katherine Johnson a “role model”

Local News

America is honoring a “hidden figure” and trailblazer whose math skills helped put men in space. 101-year-old Katherine Johnson died Monday. You may have heard of her thanks to the 2016 movie, Hidden Figures. The movie features the stories of the black women — including Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan — whose crucial contributions made America’s triumph in the space race possible. That happened a generation ago, but that work is still inspiring young women who excel in mathematics.

At the end of her life, Johnson was modest about being an American hero.

“Just math problems,” Johnson said to a reporter.

But Johnson had the answers that put a man in space. It was 1961, when NASA-employee Johnson calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepard’s 1961 space flight, and verified the numbers guiding John Glenn’s orbit. In 1969, she helped the Apollo program land men on the moon.

“She was actually called the computer,” Jasmyn Rieff, LHS, student.

Lincoln High School students Jasmyn Rieff and Elena Anton both plan on going into careers that utilize a lot of math. They say Johnson is an inspiration for not only black women, but women in general.

“She got John Glenn to orbit the earth by hand. She did all that giant math and calculus and physics stuff by hand and I think that’s really cool,” Rieff said.

“There is a large concentration of men in the STEM field. Not many women. Watching the moving Hidden Figures and seeing this group of women do incredible things for NASA, it did inspire me a bit,” Anton said.

These students agree that beyond Johnson’s math skills, her courage in a segregated workplace and country was inspiring.

“She stood up for herself and she didn’t let herself settle or stop at one point. She just kept going. She didn’t care what everyone else thought. That’s kind of what makes her a really great role model,” Rieff said.

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Katherine Johnson helped put a man on the moon, and — by meeting Jasmyn and Elena — it’s clear Johnson’s legacy is still helping launch young woman toward bright futures.

“Do your best all the time. That’s the best you can do,” Johnson said.

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