Catherine Cummings
Category: 2022 College Winner

Catherine Cummings

Katherine Johnson, an African American human computer at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton Virginia, was a mathematics genius and one of the people the book and film “Hidden Figures” is based on. Throughout her life, Johnson supported the United States aeronautics and space program while simultaneously overcoming racial and gender barriers.

Throughout her life, Johnson faced countless obstacles due to her race. In this period, for example, Langley Aeronautical Laboratory was still segregated and housed different bathrooms for “colored” people. Despite the obvious segregation present at this time, Johnson actually ignored the colored bathroom signs, using white bathrooms rather than colored bathrooms. Mary Fair Burks of the Women’s Political Council described Johnson’s utilization of bathrooms, elevators, and park entrances exclusively for white people as Johnson’s personal form of private guerilla warfare. Thus, while working at NASA, Johnson fought against segregation.

Furthermore, Johnson was forced to fight against gender barriers, being one of the only women in the room responsible for creating the mathematics responsible for the various calculations necessary for John Glenn’s successful spaceflight. While working at NASA, Johnson proved that women and black people were extremely intelligent and capable of performing as well as and better than her white male colleagues. A shining example of Johnson proving she could out-perform others, regardless of her gender and race was her ability to perform the essential go-no-go calculations that allowed John Glenn’s launch to take place. Thus, Johnson was able to prove that women were capable of performing novel and world-altering calculations.

Johnson has been an inspiration to my life. She is the reason I am minoring in mathematics for fun. After watching “Hidden Figures” for the first time, I further researched her life, and I was inspired by her passion for a field people normally find boring. I had always been interested in math but was hesitant to take courses like calculus in high school. This was until I saw how passionate women can change the world. Now, I push myself to pursue fields I am interested in like mathematics and science, regardless of people who advise me to avoid these fields. Additionally, her bravery in fighting against barriers inspires me beyond belief. She is the reason why I am persevering in the field of biochemistry, despite the struggles of being a woman in STEM. I hope to be a doctor in the future, and throughout my undergraduate experience I have already experienced sexism for being a woman in biochemistry, especially while I perform research projects. Despite these difficulties, I have been inspired by Johnson’s perseverance as she fought gender and racial barriers, so I continue to study what I am passionate about.

Overall, Katherine Johnson is an inspiration to millions, including me. She fought against racial and gender barriers and proved she was capable of performing groundbreaking calculations, and she inspired me to minor in mathematics and to pursue a field in medicine, despite any sexism I face in my pursuit of knowledge.