Published: Jul 22, 2016
Meet Dr. Ashanti Johnson, current Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Recruitment at the University of Texas at Arlington, former Executive Director of Institute for Broadening Participation (a program dedicated to increasing diversity in STEM) and distinguished chemical oceanographer. Her dedication to increasing diversity and providing resources to underrepresented persons in science are just as commendable as her extensive research, recognized by several prestigious honors and awards.
What’s the strangest place/situation you’ve been?
The strangest situation that occurred during my career happened back in May 2005 while I was participating in an International Ocean Discovery Program SSEP: Science Steering and Evaluation Panel (IODP SSEP) meeting in Shanghai, China. At the time of the meeting I was about 3 months pregnant. Prior to arriving in China (and not wanting to draw any extra attention to myself), I made a decision to not share this personal information with the group. For most of the meeting I was successfully able to hide the sporadic nausea that I was experiencing until - the evening of the formal dinner. The dinner was held in an elegant location; people were enjoying various conversations and the servers began to place dishes of food in front of everyone at my table. The problem arose immediately after the server placed the covered dish in front of me. He removed the cover from the plate and I was suddenly looking down at a big, roasted, sea cucumber. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves but all I could do was look down at that big, elongated, glob of seafood on my plate. The more I looked at it the more certain I was that there was absolutely no way I would be able to eat my dinner entree. It was then that I decided to break my silence concerning my pregnancy. [I] quietly leaned over to the server to ask if there were any other options for dinner, since I was pregnant and unsure of my stomach’s ability to tolerate sea cumber.
What aspect of your research/science would you happily do away with?
Paperwork! Although, I realize that it is necessary, it can be quite distracting and time consuming.
How have your friends and relatives who are not scientists reacted to your career?
Most of my friends and relatives are not scientists. They have all been extremely supportive and encouraged me to pursue my dream of exploring the ocean that I have had ever since I was a little girl.
When you encounter frustrating situations or dead-ends, what keeps you going?
I am determined to achieve my goals and complete tasks that I take on. I realize that although things may be rough, I have the ability to succeed. This mindset serves to encourage me when things are difficult.
What early-professional decision was most influential in directing your current career?
My decision to accept an internship in the Polymer Chemistry Laboratory at Texas Instruments, Inc., starting the summer after my freshman year in college at Texas A&M University at Galveston. This provided me with a first-hand opportunity participate in research. I learned many things during my four summers as an intern, including the importance of having a strong work ethic.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career, either academic or professional?
Having the opportunity to mentor others and watching them achieve their goals.
You advocate for professional (and academic) diversity within the scientific community; what advice would you give to those individuals trying to break the glass ceiling in geosciences?
Persevere! Remain true to your vision. Develop a support system and outlets to deal constructively with stress. Stress and challenges will come, rise above them and push through. Remember that your successes are not just your own. They also represent successes for your family, community and friends. Acknowledge [that] and give honor where honor is due.