Girls aren’t supposed to be interested in things like robotics, but that hasn’t stopped Dorothy Benisha Johnson from studying mechanical engineering at the University of South Carolina (USC), doing a summer internship with the Savannah River Remediation team, and planning to work in robotics when she graduates from college.
Johnson, 20, a Union native and 2010 graduate of Union County High School, is a rising junior at USC whose interest in mechanical engineering began as a child.
“It was something different, girls aren’t supposed to be interested in those type of activities,” Johnson said. “Also, my father worked on cars and I thought that was interesting.”
Johnson’s father noticed his daughter’s interest in the work he was doing along with her ability to succeed in the classroom, and sought to nurture her interest by providing her with the opportunity to work with robots.
“She’s been a straight A student since day one, since first grade” Benjamin Johnson said. “I knew because she’d pick up on stuff real quick. I knew it was going to lead to something, she’s very smart.
“I signed her up for a summer activity in robotics when she was eight,” he said. “She enjoyed it and she came home telling me how to build stuff.”
While taking the summer class, Johnson learned how to build motors, make roller coasters and structures with Legos, and how to turn on a light bulb with wires using parallel and series formatting. Just as her interest in her father’s work inspired him to sign her up for the summer robotics class, the class inspired Johnson to focus on the subjects that would enable her to continue working in robotics.
“I thought it was interesting and since it involves math and science I focused on math and science in school,” Johnson said. “I built things in class. In my physics class with Mr. Eric Childers we built roller coasters. We each built a roller coaster and then we came together and built one big roller coaster.”
Her experience in high school reinforced Johnson’s interest in robotics and inspired her to major in mechanical engineering at USC.
“I wanted to build and I like machinery, so I wanted to have a major I could do all of that within,” Johnson said. “Robotics is a main part of mechanical engineering.”
In pursuing her major, Johnson has studied the different aspects of mechanical engineering, each involving activities designed to hone student’s understanding of each aspect of the field. As demanding as her major has been, Johnson said she’s loved every minute of it with each course encouraging her to continue toward her goal of working in robotics.
“In Physics we did experiments with lights and shooting projectiles,” Johnson said. “We had to write reports on what we learned and really enjoyed it. In my engineering classes I took one called Numerical Methods, it dealt with problem solving. Then I took Statics.
“Mechanical Engineering is very broad, it uses every other aspect of engineering including electrical and civil,” she said. “Statics is a civil engineering class which deals with structures, including building bridges, houses and many other types of structures. It’s what we have to learn to know how to build.”
Johnson said she is currently seeking her Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, but plans to get her Master’s in robotics or nuclear engineering.
Summer has traditionally been considered by many Johnson’s age as a time to temporarily leave their studies behind and enjoy themselves. For Johnson, however, this summer has given her the opportunity to continues her studies, gain hands on experience of and possibly position herself to get a job in her chosen field when she graduates. She said she’s definitely enjoying her summer vacation.
Johnson is serving an internship with the Savannah River Remediation, a company formed by URS, Bechtel, CH2M HILL, and B&W TSG to develop and implement processes that remove and treat liquid waste and close Cold War era nuclear waste tanks at the Savannah River Site which is owned by the US Department of Energy.
“This is my first internship so I’m excited,” Johnson said. “They started me out doing walkdowns, that’s when you go out in the field and check equipment. I also check the essential drawings, those are the layouts of where the equipment is.
“I love it, you go out and check the equipment and see if it is there or has been removed,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing right now, but I’ve told them about my robotics interest and I believe next week I’ll get to start working with robots.”
Besides working with robots, Johnson said her internship could possibly lead to a job with a department of the federal government.
“I’m really excited about that,” Johnson said. “I want to work for either the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy. I’m with the Department of Energy now through my internship.”
Johnson’s eagerness to work in robotics or nuclear engineering has got her looking at a dual program offered by USC which could enable her to get her Master’s degree in as little as a year and a half. She said she is looking forward to graduating and working with robots, something she said will enable her to help others.
“It is something where I get to say that what I built helped others,” Johnson said. “At Savannah River they have robots that are able to go where humans can’t go, like the nuclear waste tanks. They put them in the tanks to gather samples. I want to build robots to help with more things like that so people won’t have to do hard labor.”
As for those who might be considering a career in robotics or some equally demanding field, Johnson urged them not to be dismayed by the hard work involved and follow their dream.
“It’ going to be hard road, but you get through it,” Johnson said. “It going to be rewarding. Go for it.”