Boeing engineer honored for efforts in chemistry, civil rights

HEATH – As a college student, Oscar Johnson fought for civil rights in 1960 and learned as much as possible about chemical engineering.

Much has changed since graduating from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, but the Boeing employee is still pursuing civil rights and chemistry breakthroughs. And he was honored for his continued efforts in both areas.

Eighty-year-old Johnson, of Columbus, is the chief chemical technology manager at the Boeing Guidance Repair Center in Heath, where he has worked for 25 years. He previously worked in film research and development at the Dow Chemical Company in Granville, where he invented a special blend of polymers for labels on plastic bottles.

2021 Black Engineer of the Year Modern Technology Leader Award

US Black Engineer and Information Technology, a publication that explores and promotes opportunities in engineering, science and technology, selected Johnson for the Modern Engineer Award of Black Engineer of the Year 2021.

“My nomination for an award caused an incredulous response,” said Johnson. “The award was a recognition from my colleagues for the value of my hard work and contributions to the workplace.”

As a materials and process engineer, Johnson tests chemical compounds, materials, and processes used in navigation systems on ICBMs, nuclear-capable submarines, and aircraft to determine their safety and suitability under extreme conditions.

Oscar Johnson

He also conducts the monthly safety inspections that helped keep Boeing laboratories injury free for five years. In 2016, he improved the site’s security and technology capabilities by helping to secure funding for new technology in the laboratories that saved time and money.

Boeing spokesman Josh Roth said, “He’s got a leadership role. He’s doing great. He hasn’t missed a step. It’s incredible.”

“I’m still working to give young people opportunities.”

In 2006, Johnson was recognized by the International Civil Rights Center and Museum for his participation in the 1960 sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Johnson said his family’s story gave him the courage to join the protest that led to his arrest.

“My grandmother’s experience of being the daughter of a slave and dropping out of school after third grade to work in the fields gave a nod,” said Johnson. “The lessons at my Sunday School also gave me a strong sense of self.”

When asked how he would rate the country’s progress on civil rights, Johnson said his focus is on today’s youth.

“I’m still working on empowering young people,” said Johnson. “It’s a challenge, but one thing I’m committed to is giving back because so many people have given me back.”

Johnson has continued to work to improve access and justice for others. Once a member of the city council as a Racial Liaison Officer, he now works with the Boeing Black Employees Association and Boeing Generation to Generation Business Resource Groups.

“I learned in an environment where I had to be engaged.”

In a story by Rosemary Lane and Josh Roth on Boeing News Now, Johnson explains how his interests in chemistry and civil rights became intertwined during his undergraduate studies.

Here is an excerpt from their story:

“I realized that I was studying in an environment where I had to be engaged,” said Johnson. “I’ve been trying to do things better all the time because, as one student put it, ‘Oscar, you’re getting a degree, but where are you going? ‘I wanted to create a better world for African Americans to live in by removing barriers. “

Johnson took his chemistry books to sit at the Woolworths’ lunch counter and attended the historic Greensboro sit-in to desegregate the five-cent store – a peaceful protest that catalyzed sit-ins across the country.

After being arrested in separate theaters during protests and later sit-in strikes, Johnson learned that his chemistry books were a good distraction from the jail’s rough floors and helped him continue his studies.

“I would like more young people to pursue a career in MINT.”

Johnson said his interest in chemistry came from helping his grandmother with household chores.

“Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, my grandmother taught me how to mix and heat cooking fat to make lye soap,” said Johnson. “Observing the chemical process sparked my lifelong interest in chemistry and chemical engineering.”

He hopes to spark the same interest in young people today, especially science, technology, engineering, and math.

“I would like to see more young people pursuing careers in STEM,” said Johnson. “That’s why I take part in STEM outreach programs at Boeing. I try to be a window on what students might be able to do if they choose STEM – to ensure that young people have the opportunity to have.”

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Twitter: @ kmallett1958

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