A Maker at Heart
Sarah Johnson is a maker at heart. She filed two provisional patents for inventions while still in high school. “I was always filling a sketchbook with ideas and research on an array of topics, from robotics to new types of inventions that might be useful in 50 years,” she says. “Some of those ideas have really stood the test of time, and I still have them written down. I am proud of the ideas that were in younger Sarah’s mind. She was optimistic and passionate.”
The electrical and computer engineering technology major believes in sharing that passion with the next generation. She has volunteered and worked for TechGirlz Charitable Foundation, an organization that teaches and empowers STEM education for middle school girls through engineering and computer classes. And, her hard work is paying off. She is one of five recipients of the 2020-2021 Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Dorothy Lemke Howarth Memorial Scholarship. She also received the Theodore K. Steele Scholarship and, in 2018, she received the CompTIA/ChannelPro AdvancingWomen in Technology’s inaugural Cecilia Galvin Scholarship award. She sat down with The Box to talk about her college career and hopes for the future.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa. My parents chose alternative schooling, so my two older siblings and I were homeschooled. My mom has a teaching degree, so we had a full educational experience. Although the social aspect of homeschooling has its flaws, I still had friends through weekly homeschool group events, robotics, and church. I believe being homeschooled equipped me with the ability to find what I was passionate about.
How did being homeschooled help you?
If I weren’t homeschooled, I probably would not be where I am today. When my mom took my older brother and sister to Home Depot Kids’ Workshop, I was determined to pick up the hammer and offer some assistance, despite being too young for the program. When I was old enough, my mom signed me up. She saw something in me—I wanted to create things. No one in my family was an engineer; I was just doing what came naturally to me. I have competed in science fairs since kindergarten and engineering competitions since sixth grade, totaling more than 30 fairs since age five. I won three national titles in engineering and computer science at the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), five special recognitions from prestigious organizations including Lockheed Martin, Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and PECO (formerly Philadelphia Electric Company).
Can you tell us about the devices you invented, what inspired them, and where they are in the process now?
I have sketchbooks dating back to eighth grade. In my sophomore year of high school, I did research and created a prototype for a reverse microwave, a device that could decrease the temperature of a hot object. I placed Gold in my city fair and went to a national competition. I filed for a provisional patent to protect my idea. In my last two years of high school, I created a GPS tracker called The Implementation and The Impact of a Geo-Tracking System, a device that can pinpoint the precise location of a lost child and help elderly people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The patent process is challenging. I met with a patent attorney and business law managers to discuss the necessary steps to take to obtain a provisional patent. I am still thinking about the next steps for these inventions, how to build upon them and improve the devices.
How did you come to attend New York Institute of Technology?
One of the things that was important to me when looking at schools was location. I wanted to be in a metropolis, a vibrant tech city. Since New York Tech was only two hours from Philadelphia, and one of the most bustling cities on the east coast, it was a great fit.
New York Tech has over 9,000 students. However, I like the small class sizes. I am not just another student in a professor’s class, they knew who I am, and any questions or problems I have, they help me.
What are some of the projects you are working on?
In January 2020, I will be traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with 15 other students from the New York City, Long Island, and Vancouver campuses through the R-Cubed project. [R-Cubed brings together faculty, staff, and students from across New York Tech’s schools and colleges, to find ways to respond to natural and manmade disasters. R-Cubed approaches relief, reconstruction, and resiliency from an interdisciplinary perspective that draws on both academic and professional expertise.] We will be constructing a storm station for a local community in Río Piedras. Also, in November 2019, I participated in Technica, one of the biggest all-female hackathons.
In February, you will be representing New York Tech at the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU) annual meeting. Can you tell us about what you will do there? I will be speaking about how important STEM education resources are to New York Tech and other New York state universities, especially for women. I will also be speaking about the importance of financial aid and opportunity programs. I am very excited to be representing New York Tech. Being able to talk to the people responsible for providing the opportunities and programs is very important.
What excites you most about your field of study? What do you hope to do next?
I am most excited about being able to build the future. It’s amazing to see the technological advances that are becoming available to consumers today that were not available five years ago, or even two years ago. There are a lot of things that people can do with an engineering degree. I love learning and hope to pursue a graduate degree. I want to travel and use my engineering skills to repair communities around the world. I have always wanted to get involved with Engineering Without Borders, and I think this year I may start helping with some of their projects, or get involved as best as I can.