Kristina M. Johnson appointed 16th president of The Ohio State University
Highly accomplished academic, entrepreneur to begin tenure August 24
The Ohio State University
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to reflect a change in Kristina M. Johnson’s start date as Ohio State’s 16th president.
The Ohio State University Board of Trustees today appointed Kristina M. Johnson, PhD, as the 16th president in university history. Johnson, who has served as chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) since 2017, brings more than 30 years of experience as an academic, business and policy leader.
“We are pleased beyond measure to welcome Dr. Johnson to Ohio State,” said board chair Gary R. Heminger. “Her range of knowledge, service and accomplishments across sectors and throughout her career is nothing short of remarkable.
“She is uniquely positioned to make an immediate impact – building on Ohio State’s momentum and advancing our mission to uplift lives through academic excellence.”
As SUNY’s chancellor, Johnson led a system of 64 public colleges and universities – including five academic health centers and three hospital systems – with 1.3 million students, 30,000 faculty and 90,000 employees overall. Prior to that, she founded and served as CEO of several successful science and technology companies, served as under secretary of energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and held academic leadership positions at institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Johnson has close family ties to Ohio State and Ohio. Her grandfather graduated from Ohio State in 1896, played right guard on one of the early football teams and was a member of the Tesla Club. Family lore has it that Johnson’s grandfather met her grandmother on the Columbus campus. Johnson has deep family roots in Ohio.
“Ohio State has always been a special place to me – well beyond its standing as one of the most respected teaching, research and patient-care institutions in the world,” Johnson said. “I am humbled to be selected to lead this great land-grant university, and I look forward to meeting with students, faculty and staff to begin our work together.”
At SUNY, Johnson launched a system-wide student success initiative that increased two-year community college graduation rates by 22%, cut in half the number of students requiring remediation before starting college credit-bearing coursework, saved students $47 million in textbook costs over three years and established a goal to hire 1,000 underrepresented minorities and women in STEM by 2030. She worked with New York’s Empire State Development to form industry partnerships with IBM, Applied Materials and Cree totaling $4.6 billion with associated programs that helped advance SUNY research expenditures by $100 million year over year. Johnson also partnered with the New York Power Authority to procure 100% renewable electricity at SUNY by 2023.
In her role as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins, she led a university-wide strategic planning process, stood up the Carey Business School and launched the MOSAIC Initiative to recruit underrepresented faculty. As dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke, she led a strategic planning process that increased undergraduate enrollment by 20%, doubled the number of graduate students, tripled research expenditures, increased the school’s endowment tenfold, and led to the construction of the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences. Also at Duke, Johnson worked to increase the percentage of women faculty from 6% to 19%. She hired 55 faculty members, including 19 early-career award winners and three members of the National Academy of Engineering.
Johnson will begin her tenure as Ohio State president on Aug. 24, 2020. She succeeds Michael V. Drake, who has served as president since June 2014.
At Ohio State, she will lead and further shape the university’s strategic plan as well as Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign, an effort to engage 1 million supporters in the areas of student success, discovery, and healthy, vibrant communities.
Johnson was recommended to the board by the Presidential Search Committee, chaired by trustee Lou Von Thaer and composed of a selection subcommittee and a 20-member advisory subcommittee of students, faculty, staff and stakeholders.
“Kristina has had a remarkable career, and she has demonstrated accomplished leadership in academic, corporate and government settings,” Von Thaer said. “The Ohio State presidency is her dream job, a top national university with the scale to impact students, the state and national economies.”
Johnson also served as a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Optoelectronic Computing Systems at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University. During her tenure at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Johnson co-founded and served as CEO of ColorLink, which focused on innovations in microdisplays and color polarizing technology. The company would become part of RealD, responsible for the Real3-D system used in more than 300 movies, including “Avatar.”
The technology developed by Johnson and ColorLink was recognized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the John Fritz Medal (2008), which is among the most prestigious honors in engineering with past awardees that include Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi and Orville Wright.
From 2009 to 2010, Johnson was the under secretary of energy at the DOE, managing a $10.5 billion energy and environment portfolio as well as an additional $37 billion in energy and environment investments from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. She worked with over 100 DOE scientists and engineers to create an energy plan to reduce carbon emissions by 83% by 2050. After leaving the DOE, Johnson co-founded and served as CEO of Cube Hydro Partners, a clean-energy infrastructure company that builds and operates hydropower plants in North America. During her tenure, the company grew from one to 19 plants, powering 150,000 homes with clean energy in five states. Cube Hydro Partners was sold in October of 2019 for $1.12 billion.
Johnson has published nearly 150 referenced papers and proceedings. Along with the John Fritz Medal, her awards include the Society of Women Engineers Lifetime Achievement Award (2004) and the Woman of Vision Award for Leadership by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (2010). She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Inventors, and holds more than 100 U.S. and international patents.
“Dr. Johnson is a widely recognized scholar and inclusive leader,” said Susan Olesik, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and co-chair of the presidential search’s advisory subcommittee, which collected input from the broader university community through public forums, online engagement and other outreach efforts.
“She brings deep academic experience, expertise and incredible vision to Ohio State,” Olesik said.
Johnson earned her BS, MS and PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University, where she was a varsity athlete in field hockey and founded the club varsity lacrosse team. Johnson has been awarded five honorary degrees and has served on several corporate boards. She is currently on the board of directors of Cisco Systems, Inc.
Johnson is married to Veronica Meinhard, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, and a four-time All-American swimmer at her alma mater, the University of Florida. Meinhard has 26 years of experience in higher education philanthropy and administration. She held leadership roles at both the University of Florida and the University of Maryland, College Park, before founding Juniper Philanthropy Partners.