we should start one. So, we did. Over the course of my nearly
eight years at Stanford as an undergraduate and graduate student, it went from being a club sport to a club varsity sport. I
think that’s maybe part of the answer: Leaders need to take
charge when they see an opportunity to build something new.
[Note: On the 40th anniversary of Title IX in 2012, Johnson was
recognized as a 40 For 40 honoree by espn W and other organizations. The 40 For 40 event honored “women who have made
an impact” after participating in high school and college sports.]
When I went into science and engineering at Stanford, I didn’t
have any science or engineering faculty that were women. I only
had t wo women professors in eight years. Only t wo, though I had
terrific male faculty including my Ph. D. adviser, Joseph Goodman.
When I graduated, I did not think that women were professors in
science and engineering. I didn’t really think too much about it. It
just was the way it was. One of the things that I’m not as happy
about today is that there hasn’t been a significant increase in the
number of women pursuing engineering. That needs to change.
Drawing on your experiences as chancellor of the SUNY
system, dean of engineering at Duke University, an entrepreneur
and a high-level government appointee in the Obama
administration, what particular challenges do you think are
keeping women in the sciences back?
In the early 1990s, the National Science Foundation did an interesting study that said women will pursue careers in science and
engineering and stay in them if they can align their vocation with
their avocation to help others.
I think the more that we humanize the field, the more attractive
these careers will be to all individuals.
I also think part of it is that when women don’t see role models in STAT
CHANCELLOR, THE S TATE
UNIVERSIT Y OF NE W YORK
You’re an alumna of the 1975 International Science and
Engineering Fair. How did the competition impact your life and
are there any particular moments that still stand out for you?
It was an amazing experience. In 1975, I became fascinated by
holograms — I just thought they were magic. Although holograms
are every where now, at the time they were not that well known.
[Note: Johnson’s project title was “Holographic Study of the
Sporangiophore of Phycomyces.”]
I ended up building a little lab in our basement and was able to
reproduce the lab in my physics classroom at school. That’s the
year I experienced my first all-nighter. I stayed up all night at my
high school the night before the science fair. It was a little contro-
versial to say the least.
My project did well, and it was exciting. As a result, I think competing at ISEF gave me confidence and enthusiasm about science.
At the time, I was really not aware that it was unusual to be a
woman in science. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized
that it was unusual. That’s where doing well at ISEF gave me confidence. When I was told I didn’t belong, I could just think back to
succeeding at ISEF.
I understand your high school did not have a girls’ lacrosse
team so you practiced with the boys. At Stanford University,
you started a women’s lacrosse team that became the varsity
team. We still experience a gender gap in a variety of fields,
from athletics to engineering. What strategies do you think are
working and not working to close the gender gap?
Obviously, the biggest improvement for gender equity in sports
was passing Title IX, wherein it became important to open up
these opportunities for girls and women. When I got to Stanford,
I learned that we didn’t have a lacrosse team and thought, well,
Maya Ajmera, President & CEO of Society for Science & the Public and Publisher of Science News,
sat down to chat with Kristina Johnson, Chancellor of The State University of New York and
an alumna of the International Science and Engineering Fair. We are thrilled to share an edited
version of their conversation.