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BHSU to name Life Sciences building for Dr. Kathryn Johnson

Author: BHSU Communications/Monday, April 9, 2018/Categories: Events, Students, Academic Affairs, Alumni, Awards, Campus Currents, Campus Transformations, College of Business and Natural Sciences, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, Community, Events, Faculty, Home News, President, Staff, Scholarships, 2018

The Life Sciences building on the campus of Black Hills State University will be renamed in honor of Dr. Kathryn Johnson, a BHSU graduate who is owner and principal of Johnson Environmental Concepts in Rapid City. A gathering to celebrate the renaming will be held Tuesday, April 24 at 9 a.m. on the northeast side of the building.

“All of us at BHSU are so pleased to name the science building in honor of one of our most successful science graduates, Dr. Kathryn Johnson,” BHSU President Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr., says. “Dr. Johnson’s successful career, her commitment to serving the community, and her unending encouragement and support for science students is extraordinary. The Kathryn Johnson Life Sciences Laboratory will inspire students for years to come.” 

Johnson, who earned her chemistry and math degrees from BHSU in 1975, has served as an environmental consultant for 30 years. She went on to earn a Ph.D., served as a regent on the South Dakota Board of Regents for 12 years and also was selected to serve on the U.S. Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology. Her thoughtful approach has been appreciated by leaders and policy makers who have appointed her to positions affecting education in South Dakota and throughout the nation. Her efforts will continue to provide meaningful impact for generations of students.       

The Kathryn Johnson Science Scholarships were created with a $1 million estate gift to encourage and provide financial support to BHSU students majoring in science or science education.

“It’s fitting that a science building be named in her honor,” President Jackson said.

Johnson remembers being in a science class when she decided she wanted to become a chemist after learning about the launching of Sputnik. While attending BHSU, Johnson worked as a lab assistant in the chemistry labs. Now a building that houses science labs and inspires student research projects will be named the Kathryn Johnson Life Sciences Laboratory in her honor.

Johnson grew up in northwest South Dakota in Perkins County. After graduating from high school, Johnson said the decision to attend Black Hills State College was an easy one as her sister, Luann Johnson Zuercher, Class of 1974, was already enrolled there. At BH, Johnson says her classes as well as her work study job as a lab assistant for the chemistry labs were meaningful learning experiences.

As she progressed in her education at BH, Johnson remembers an advanced chemistry class and physics courses in which she was the only female enrolled. “Being one of the only females didn’t bother me. I had a cadre of math and science kids I hung out with. When I got to grad school, the lack of females hit me like a 2x4 between the eyes. We were a little isolated.” Despite that isolation, she has created an impressive science career and continues to advocate for science students at all levels.

Following completion of her Ph.D., Johnson oversaw a geoscience group in Boise, Idaho. Johnson then decided to return to Rapid City and pursue her own consulting business, Johnson Environmental Concepts, which provides consultant services in geochemistry, geohydrology, and environmental science. Her clients have included the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Homestake Mining Company, Rand Corporation, and Burlington Northern Railroad.

BHSU’s Life Sciences Laboratory officially opened in 2011 providing space for classrooms, five teaching labs, three research labs, two conference rooms and faculty offices to meet the needs of students pursuing science degrees at BHSU. The building also houses the Center for the Conservation of Biological Resources (CCBR), a nationally recognized DNA lab. BHSU’s proximity to Sanford Lab creates opportunities for collaborative projects in the sciences.

BHSU offers bachelor’s science degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Physical Science, and Physical Science. The University also offers minors in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics. Science teaching degrees are also available in these areas. BHSU also offers an associate’s degree in Applied Health Sciences. BHSU offers master’s degrees in Sustainability, an interdisciplinary online program that studies the complex relationships between environmental factors, natural systems, economic structures, legal frameworks, socio-political forces and policy options; and in Integrative Genomics, an area of biological research that seeks to place the functional significance of an organism's many genes into an ecological and evolutionary context. In recent years, BHSU has seen increased interest from students pursuing pre-professional degrees in medicine, pharmacy, chiropractic medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, nursing and other health careers.

BHSU science students continue to earn stellar reputations in graduate school and in their careers. Students will continue to be inspired by Dr. Kathryn Johnson, as her namesake laboratory is used by BHSU science students and faculty.

Video: Kathryn Johnson Life Sciences Laboratory Naming

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