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Mathematician and Engineer Marion Johnson, of the Apollo 11 Mission, Inspires Girl Scouts to Become America’s Next Tech Leaders

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BASKING RIDGE – Marion Johnson, a mathematician now known as New Jersey’s own “Hidden Figure,” took center stage at Girls Scouts Heart of New Jersey’s (GSHNJ) recent third-annual Young Women of Vision Leadership Breakfast.

Johnson inspired the crowd with her story as an engineer at NASA. It began as a journey from childhood in the segregated South to an esteemed career as a top aerospace engineer at NASA and Boeing, She is the recipient of a “Hidden Figures Award” for her contributions to the Apollo 11  mission, which landed the first two humans on the surface of the moon.

“Reach for the stars, but land on the moon,” Johnson told the sold-out crowd at the third-annual event at Basking Ridge Country Club on May 16.

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In 1969, Boeing recognized Johnson for her technical competence and her perfect record of 20 successful missions in 20 attempts. She spoke of mentorship, and the importance of teaching young women they can attain great things.

Fresh out of college and armed with a degree in mathematics, Johnson went to work for Boeing as an associate engineer. Her job for the Apollo mission was figuring out where the booster rockets would fall, and her name is even listed on the Roll of Honor at the Smithsonian for her part in the space mission.

But it was only after seeing "Hidden Figures," based on the eerily similar story of three African-American women at NASA in the 1960s, that Johnson begin seriously considering her own contributions.

With Johnson in attendance, the natural focus of this year’s breakfast was on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  One of several STEM projects on display was a set of renderings of a Mobile STEM Unit in the final planning stages. The unit will give Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey girls a portable STEM lab at their various meeting places.

“This event is the cornerstone of our efforts to turn Girl Scouts into tomorrow’s STEM leaders,” said Mara Tolas, Fund Development Manager at GSHNJ.

Natasha Hemmings, newly appointed CEO of GSHNJ, spoke of her mission to build leadership programs in four key areas: outdoor experiences, life skills, entrepreneurship, and STEM.

“GSHNJ is working to help challenge girls to explore their STEM skills with new badges and initiatives, which would allow them to bring their talent and skills to the workforce,” Hemmings said.

The moderator of this year’s panel discussion was Lauren Love-Wright, Vice President of Network Engineering at Verizon. A panel of talented women joined Love-Wright to discuss their work in STEM, the role of women in the STEM field, and how their experiences as Girl Scouts shaped their lives and careers.

The panelists were: Hayley Katz, a materials engineer for the United States Army and Girl Scout alumna; Dr. Joni Jefferson, a primary care physician; Jazmine Tooles, a physical therapist and Girl Scout alumna; Erica Martinez, a technical operations manager at Verizon and Girl Scout alumna; and Rachel Thompson, industrial design student and Girl Scout alumna.

The Presenting Sponsor of this year’s Young Women of Vision Leadership Breakfast was Ericsson.

For more information, and how you can help make a difference for local Girl Scouts in your area, visit www.gshnj.org.

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