The first African-American to earn a degree in marine science from Texas A&M, Dr. Ashanti Johnson has loved the ocean since an early age. Continuing her studies at Texas A&M University she became the first and to date only African-American to earn a doctorate in chemical oceanography.
While working as an assistant professor at the University of South Florida, Johnson was approached by NASA to start a mentoring program that would become The Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science (MS PHD’S). This initiative was developed by and for underrepresented minorities with a purpose of facilitating increased participation in Earth system science. By providing students with professional development and networking opportunities, mentoring relationships, and science exposure it helps participants achieve successful science careers. In 2008 she was named the Executive Director of the Institute for Broadening Participation, the parent organization for MS PHD’S.
As a result of her dedication towards facilitating the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM programs and careers throughout the U.S., Dr. Johnson was awarded the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mathematics Engineering and Mentoring presented by President Obama at a White House ceremony.
Moving to the University of Texas–Arlington in 2013 she was an associate professor of environmental science and served as Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Recruitment.
Seeing the way some student athletes were pushed in a “win-at-all-costs” attitude that didn’t prioritize their educational experience but stressed athletic prowess and success on the field, Johnson co-founded Sportin’ The Grades. This non-profit organization’s mission is the academic STEM enrichment of student-athletes from K-12 grade levels in public schools, charter schools, private institutions, and home-schools and to prepare these students for educational success and sustainable careers in STEM disciplines, while they pursue excellence in athletics.
In mid-2016, Johnson left UT-Arlington to help encourage another generation in their pursuit of knowledge as the CEO and superintendent of the newly formed Cirrus Academy of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math Charter School in Macon, Georgia. Johnson is still actively involved in both MS PHD’S and Sportin’ the Grades.
Written by Angela Goad