Drexel Launches Speaker Series to Elevate Voices of Pathbreakers and Leaders in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Inaugural Event Will Focus on Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, in Recognition of Women’s History Month

Drexel University will honor the legacy of pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose contributions to the space shuttle program were chronicled in the award-winning film “Hidden Figures,” and the work of women and people of color she inspired to be today’s leaders in science, technology engineering and math, at a panel discussion on March 6. The event will be the first in Drexel’s President's Speaker Series highlighting leaders in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

“As a university that is deeply committed to creating a culture of inclusion and belonging as we work to build a more equitable future for our community, lifting the voices of these tremendous individuals who are leading the way, will be a truly inspirational moment,” said Drexel President John Fry. “I look forward to what is sure to be a rich and rewarding conversation — and many more to follow — that will bring us together as a campus community.”

Johnson used her love of math to excel at NASA in the 1950s — when “computers” were the teams of people who solved math problems. Her curiosity, perseverance and skill at solving complex math problems involving geometry earned Johnson a position on a special projects team that was working out the physics of the first moon orbits and eventually the successful Apollo 11 moon landing.

Johnson worked at NASA for more than 30 years before retiring in 1986. During her career she co-authored 26 scientific papers. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama, and two NASA facilities now bear her name. Johnson died in February 2020, at the age of 101. Her inspirational legacy lives on through the work of the Katherine Johnson Foundation, spearheaded by her two living children, Joylette Hylick, and Katherine Moore, whose mission is to encourage, inspire and empower youth to pursue careers in STEM.

The panel will feature Johnson’s grandson, Michael Moore, a senior vice president and director of software engineering at Truist Financial Corporation. Moore will be joined by 2009 College of Engineering alumna Moogega Cooper, who is a planetary protection engineer at NASA; Latasha Harling, a diversity and community impact consultant and a member of the board of trustees of the Academy of Natural Sciences; India Johnson, a social psychologist at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, who studies what makes individuals role models and allies from the perspective of Black women in STEM; and Stephen Cox, regional project director of the Greater Philadelphia Region Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Drexel University’s Office of the Provost.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public, and will be held in Drexel’s Behrakis Grand Hall from 4-5:30, p.m. Prior to the event, the panelists will spend time meeting with Drexel students in STEM majors.

“Honoring the legacy of Katherine Johnson provides a powerful message about the importance of role models,” said Kim Gholston, Drexel vice president and chief diversity officer. “Gathering as a community and hearing these stories of perseverance is both a learning opportunity and a chance to build connections as we all work to create an inclusive, equitable and just environment of belonging at Drexel.”

The President's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Speaker Series will regularly bring to campus nationally recognized speakers and leaders, who are cutting a path toward a more inclusive future, for social justice-oriented community discussions that will focus and energize the University around its strategic imperative to foster and strengthen a culture of equity. The series is sponsored by the Office of the President, and organized by the Office for Institutional Equity and Inclusive Culture.

For more information about the series and upcoming lectures, visit: www.drexel.edu/deib-series