West Virginia State University announced Thursday that alumna Katherine Johnson – the NASA mathematician whose calculations helped astronauts return to Earth – is being honored with a bronze statue and a scholarship in her name, the dedication ceremony of which is scheduled for August 25, the day before Johnson’s 100th birthday.
“Rarely are we presented an opportunity to attach ourselves to a historic moment. I believe this is one of those times,” WVSU President Anthony L. Jenkins said in a statement. “Despite her numerous accomplishments, she never forgot WVSU, White Sulphur Springs, nor the state she loves so dear. Then, as throughout her life, Katherine has embodied the true essence of a West Virginian; strong values, unbreakable resolve, and a work ethic that is second to none.”
Artist Frederick Hightower – also an alumi of West Virginia State – has been commissioned to sculpt the life-size statue of Johnson, showing her during her years as a mathematician at NASA.
West Virginia State said they are looking to endow the scholarship at $100,000, awarding students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, with an emphasis on “assisting talented individuals who are underrepresented in those fields.”
At the height of the Space Race of the 1960s, Johnson worked as a “computer” at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics – which would later be renamed NASA – working in relative obscurity. Her significant contributions were later recognized in the book Hidden Figures and in the 2017 movie of the same name. (Taraji P. Henson, center, depicted Johnson).
Johnson sat down for an interview in September of last year (video embedded below). When asked her thoughts about NASA’s new facility being opened in her honor, she said with a chuckle, “If you want my honest answer, I think they’re crazy.”
She added, “I was excited – it’s something new. I always liked something new. But give credit to everybody who helped. I didn’t do anything alone, but try to go the the root of the question and succeed from there.”