Major General Ronald L. Johnson (retired), MS OR 1985, knows the significance of celebrating the contributions of pioneers—and the opportunities made possible by pioneering actions.
Johnson will be among the many alumni, students, faculty, and staff who this fall will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the matriculation of African American students at Georgia Tech. In the fall term of 1961, Ford Greene, Ralph Long Jr., and Lawrence Williams became the first African American students to enroll at the Institute. This pivotal event cut against the grain of popular opinion in the South in the early 1960s, signaling a decades-long transformation that has resulted in Georgia Tech’s current status as the nation’s No. 1 producer of African American engineering graduates at the doctoral level and the No. 2 producer at the undergraduate level.
In appreciation for and recognition of this milestone event, Johnson has made two new philanthropic commitments to Tech. The first establishes the need-based Ronald L. Johnson Scholarships for undergraduate students, with first preference for academically qualified African American students in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. The second commitment establishes the Ronald L. Johnson Roll Call Endowment Fund, whose distributions may be expended at the direction of the Institute president.
The creation of the scholarship fund supports the ongoing efforts of the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization (GTBAO) to establish endowed scholarship funds not only in honor of the early trailblazers and the more than 6,800 black men and women who have earned Georgia Tech degrees, but also to make a financial difference for future generations.
“Over the past fifty years, Georgia Tech has built an international reputation for its fostering of diversity within the context of a highly competitive academic environment,” said Johnson, who currently serves as senior vice president of referee operations with the National Basketball Association. “We know that the minority students who study at and graduate from Tech are among the nation’s brightest; they have to be in order to succeed here.”
Johnson made an expendable gift to fund a one-time scholarship for an African American student during the 2009-10 academic year. “During the fall Homecoming, I had the privilege of meeting the recipient of the scholarship I funded,” said Johnson. “His achievements and his goals for the future inspired me to endow the scholarship in perpetuity. I hope this new scholarship program will inspire its recipients to follow that example. Those of us who benefit from a Georgia Tech degree have an obligation to provide opportunity for the next generation of black students.”
“All of us in the GTBAO are tremendously grateful to General Johnson for his generous support of scholarships for black students to obtain a respected and valuable Georgia Tech education,” said Sonya C. Rush, ChE 1981, chair of GTBAO’s fundraising initiative. “His support provides momentum for our efforts to continue building a meaningful legacy at Georgia Tech. Through the creation of endowed scholarships such as the Ronald L. Johnson Scholarship, we seek to enhance Georgia Tech’s competitiveness in recruiting talented black students and to facilitate the successful matriculation of black students who will be innovative leaders in all sectors of society. Our fundraising goal, symbolic of the fiftieth anniversary, is $2,011,000 by 2011. I encourage all alumni, faculty, staff, and friends to join us in this effort, which is vital to ensuring Georgia Tech’s status as the defining technological research university of the 21st century.”
(This article first appeared in the 2011 winter issue of Campaign Quarterly.)
Industrial and Systems Engineering