Super Soaker creator Lonnie Johnson helps teens pursue their STEM dreams
When people who earn transformative success reach out to ensure other people have meaningful opportunities, commendation is due. That is exactly what Lonnie Johnson, a Black inventor and engineer, is doing with his nonprofit Johnson STEM Activity Center. The nonprofit pays for high school robotics teams in Atlanta. As Blavity reported, one of the teams includes refugees of war who were cleared for a global competition in Texas – despite only two years of competition experience.
Johnson’s resume includes experience as a NASA engineer, a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee University and creating the toy water gun unleashed on friends and relatives at social gatherings – the Super Soaker, his most famous invention. People loved the toy to the tune of more than $1 billion in retail sales, from which Johnson received royalties.
The Mobile, Alabama native told Forbes about his successes and challenges as an engineer and inventor. Initially, some people dismissed the Super Soaker idea. Also, Johnson said he let a different idea get away from him without large-scale pursuit. Johnson told the publication he attended a toy fair decades ago where he met a man who worked for a small business that produced off-brand toys. Johnson wanted support for the Super Soaker. One of the company employees at the fair told Johnson, “If you’re ever in Philadelphia, come and see us and we’ll be happy to talk to you.” The man added, “Don’t make a special trip.”
Johnson, it seems, made a special trip. His persistence paid off when he was asked if the toy gun worked. Johnson convincingly shot water across the conference room in a meeting that yielded the Super Soaker’s prototype. Much like Johnson needed to meet and work with like minds and obtain enough funding to bring his ideas into being, Johnson STEM Activity Center can provide similar help to today’s teenagers.