Ashanti Johnson

Mercer University-Cirrus Academy

2016 Ambassador Award Winner

Ashanti Johnson was awarded the 2016 Ambassador Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is in recognition for “outstanding contributions to one or more of the following area(s): societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool.”


Dr. Ashanti Johnson has devoted substantial effort to mentoring underrepresented minority (URM) Earth system science (ESS) undergraduate and graduate students, as well as URM -early–career professionals. She recognizes the importance of effectively encouraging URM students to pursue careers within ESS, despite the fact that professional rewards for academic scientists often come not for being good mentors but primarily through their scientific research activities. Although, initially, Ashanti utilized the normal mentoring channels available to faculty by mentoring students who enrolled in her classes or had research interests similar to hers, she quickly recognized a need for a broader, more proactive approach that would reach larger numbers of students, particularly URMs.

I recognized her rare ability to balance and sustain creative and visionary ideas with the necessary detailed research and technical applications. She is one of those individuals who can see the big picture while still managing a complexity of details. It is these attributes along with her dedicated leadership that have led to the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science (MS PHD’S®) Professional Development Program.

I believe the results of the MS PHD’S Professional Development Program alone would make Ashanti worthy of AGU’s Ambassador Award. However, Ashanti also actively engages in a number of other professional development and -diversity–focused scholarly activities designed to facilitate research and professional development experiences for URM students and -early–career faculty. Recognizing the crucial need for collaborative leadership within the scientific community for continuing to foster the development of a globally diverse ESS community, Ashanti also engages in key service activities with scientific communities whose missions include a commitment to broadening participation. In 2002, AGU established a Diversity Plan recommending a policy of education, engagement, outreach, facilitation, partnership, and collaboration in order to increase the diversity and representation of minorities in ESS. The plan recognized that such increased representation would provide the global scientific community with an expanded means of communicating the science behind ecological and economic practices that affect natural resources. Scientists like Ashanti serve to inspire URM students to pursue the goals of AGU’s Diversity Plan. I believe there is no one more deserving of the AGU Ambassador Award than Dr. Ashanti Johnson.

—Warren M. Washington, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo.


It is indeed a great honor to receive an AGU 2016 Ambassador Award. I am even more honored to have been nominated for this award by Warren Washington, an amazing role model. This award is a testimony of our scientific community’s acknowledgment of the need for targeted efforts to increase participation of underrepresented minorities (URMs).

I was able to attend my first AGU Fall Meeting in the mid 1990s utilizing funds from my Ford Foundation Minority Doctoral Fellowship award. Before the meeting, I was excited to be able to present my research on radionuclides in the Laptev Sea and looked forward to interacting with other researchers. During the actual meeting two things stood out to me: (1) there were thousands of attendees, and (2) I did not see any other attendees who were identifiably African American. Although I was surrounded by many individuals who were pursuing geoscience careers, I felt absolutely alone. In fact, during my debriefing with Martha Scott, my graduate advisor at Texas A&M University, I expressed how I felt and my hesitation to attend future AGU meetings.

In 2003, as a Georgia Tech research scientist working on an aquatic geochemistry project, I coordinated the university’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program. AGEP’s main objective was to improve URM doctoral students’ pathways to the professoriate. In addition, during the same year, I launched the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science (MS PHD’S®) pilot project in conjunction with the final Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) Open Science Conference. These activities served as my first formal programmatic opportunities to facilitate the advancement of STEM URM students and strengthened my commitment to provide professional development, mentoring, and funding opportunities for URM students throughout my career.

I am blessed to have been supported by many individuals, including Claudia Alexander, Peter Betzer, LaTanya -Turner–Braxton, Jacquelyn Bolman, Robert Duce, Art Hicks, Warner -Ithier–Guzman, Ambrose Jearld Jr., Roosevelt Johnson, Jill Karsten, Margaret Leinen, Gary May, Lois Ricciardi, Marilyn Suiter, Ming-Ying Wei, Warren Washington, Vivian Williamson Whitney, and Thomas Windham. Unfortunately, text limitations do not allow me to acknowledge all of those who have positively impacted the efforts for which I am being recognized, but please know there were many. It is because of these individuals and our professional community, coupled with the tremendous talent and dedication of so many URM students that I humbly accept this award.

—Ashanti Johnson, Mercer University and Cirrus Academy Charter School, Macon, Ga