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Girl STEM Institute celebrates legacy of Katherine Johnson, NASA pioneer who died at 101

Girl STEM Institute

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A group of girls in Central Indiana is hoping to follow NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson’s path.

Johnson died this week at age 101. She was one of the women portrayed in the film “Hidden Figures” about pioneering black female aerospace workers.

Indy-based Girl STEM Institute is using her legacy to teach the next generation of scientists. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some said they are thankful Johnson got recognition for her work while she was alive to see it. Johnson was one of the most important people in NASA’s early days. But for decades, few knew about her work safely calculating the trajectory of the Apollo 11’s 1969 moon landing. The 2016 film “Hidden Figures” changed that.

“To go on to NASA and literally you know have lives in her hands and use mathematics to keep those men safe. So I think she’s a tremendous figure,” said Girl STEM founder Crystal Morton.

She founded Girl STEM seven years ago with the goal of giving young girls better access to science, technology, engineering and math. They work through the traditional work to the more advanced.

“I think Girl STEM Institute helps young ladies see that mathematics is something that’s accessible to you. It’s not meant for geniuses only,” Morton said.

Each summer, the nonprofit offers a four-week course. Weekend sessions happen during the year. Roughly 300 girls have gone through the program.

“There’s a very low number of girls, young ladies of color, in STEM fields, and girls of color, they do have less access to programs like this,” Morton said.

Unlike many who first found out about Johnson by seeing the movie, Adeola Yusuf found out about Johnson after reading a quotation.

“Women are capable of doing anything that a man can do and can’t even imagine it to be further,” Yusuf said as she recalled the quotation.

Johnson’s legacy lives on.

“I feel like this will get the word out even more than it did with the movie and people will try to learn more about math,” said participant Kalyn Peay.

Girl STEM also educates the girls on the importance of self-care, other tangible things to know including skin and hair care.