Five Things to Know About Kristina Johnson, Ohio State's 16th University President

By Dan Hope on June 3, 2020 at 2:50 pm
Kristina Johnson
The Ohio State University

Kristina Johnson was officially named Ohio State’s 16th university president on Wednesday, culminating a months-long search to find Michael Drake’s successor to lead the university.

She comes to Columbus with no shortage of credentials on her résumé. Previously the chancellor of the State University of New York, Johnson has substantial experience not only in academia, but also in government and the private sector. Also a former college athlete, Johnson has ties to Ohio State and the state of Ohio and has worked to create more opportunities for women during her career.

“Her credentials are long and impeccable, and her references are glowing,” Lewis Von Thaer, who chaired Ohio State’s presidential search committee, said Wednesday during a Board of Trustees meeting in which her hire was officially approved. “Everyone we talked to praised her boundless energy, unwavering integrity and keen ability to unite people around a shared vision. One person even went so far as to say I would bet my life on Kristina. To me, that speaks volumes.”

Now that Ohio State has its new university leader, we take a look at five things you should know about Johnson, who is set to begin her tenure at OSU on Sept. 1.

Experience in several fields

Johnson, who earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University and then participated in a postdoctoral fellowship at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, began her academic career as an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Colorado, where she also served as the director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Optoelectronic Computing Systems.

She went on to become the dean of the school of engineering at Duke in 1999 and the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins in 2007. She was hired as the chancellor of SUNY in 2017.

In between then, Johnson spent time working as a public official and in business. She was appointed Under Secretary of Energy by President Barack Obama in 2009, and served in that capacity for a year-and-a-half. She then co-founded Cube Hydro Partners, a clean-energy infrastructure company focused on building and operating hydropower plants in North America, which grew to 19 plants and powered 150,000 homes in five states with clean energy before it was sold in October 2019 for $1.12 billion.

“Kristina has had a remarkable career, and she has demonstrated accomplished leadership in academic, corporate and government settings,” Von Thaer said.

A multitude of accolades

Johnson has received a long list of honors and awards over the course of her career. Among them, she received the John Fritz Medal in 2008 – widely considered to be the highest honor in the engineering profession – and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

She holds more than 100 U.S. and international patents, and is known for her innovations in 3D film technology, digital mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer, among others.

Other awards Johnson has received include the Society of Women Engineers Lifetime Achievement Award and Woman of Vision Award for Leadership by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014.

Ohio State’s second female president

Johnson will be just the second female president in Ohio State history, joining Karen Holbrook, who held the university’s top post from 2002-07. And creating opportunities for women has been an objective for Johnson throughout her life.

For example, when Johnson was at Stanford, she created the club women’s lacrosse team, which eventually became a varsity sport in 1995. At Duke, she worked to increase the percentage of women faculty from 6 to 19 percent.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX in 2012, Johnson was named by the Women’s Sports Foundation, espnW and Women in Cable Telecommunications as a 40 for 40 honoree, which recognized women who went on to make a significant impact on society after playing sports in high school or college.

A college athlete

In addition to starting the club lacrosse team at Stanford, Johnson also played field hockey for the Cardinal. She played on the boys’ lacrosse team at her high school, which didn’t have a girls’ team.

Her competitive athletic career came to an end when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1979, but she has indicated in past interviews that she remains a sports fan.

“I love sports,” Johnson told the Baltimore Sun in 2007. “I loved field hockey and I loved lacrosse. I guess my first love was field hockey because that was already a varsity sport when I got to Stanford. But I helped found the lacrosse program.”

Johnson’s wife, Veronica Meinhard, also has a substantial background in athletics. A four-time All-American swimmer at Florida, Meinhard also spent time working in the Maryland athletic department as a senior associate athletic director and chief development officer, overseeing athletics fundraising operations.

Buckeye roots

Though Johnson grew up in Denver, went to school at Stanford and has spent the past two-plus decades living on the East Coast, she has family ties to Ohio State.

Her grandfather played right guard for the Buckeyes in the early years of the Ohio State football program and graduated from the university in 1896. According to Ohio State’s announcement of Johnson’s hire, “family lore has it that Johnson’s grandfather met her grandmother on the Columbus campus.”

“Ohio State has always been a special place to me – well beyond its standing as one of the most respected teaching, research and patient-care institutions in the world,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Wednesday that she previously visited Ohio State for a women’s lacrosse championship while in college. She also previously served on the advisory council for the Ohio State College of Engineering. Taking a tour of the campus just a couple weeks ago, though, sold Johnson on accepting the job and becoming the new leader of the university.

“We admired everything we saw, from the West Campus Innovation District to the Wexner Medical Center, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Thompson Library, it was all amazing. But for me, the most amazing part was when we finally stopped at the Oval,” Johnson said during Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting. “I realized that I had come back to Ohio State University, and was seeing it again for the first time. What I saw was the foresight of its founders 150 years ago to choose this beautiful spot on campus and its early leaders to leave that magnificent Oval forever green space. That tells you something about the Buckeye Nation DNA. There is enormous vision, and an appetite for realizing greatness.”

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