Outstanding Alumni Award: Professor Jean Johnson

Honour for Chemist improving education in Africa

Professor Jean Johnson, BSc (Hons) Chemistry (1966), has been presented with an Outstanding Alumnus Award for her work to improve education in the subject Chemistry in both the UK and Africa.

Outstanding Alumni Awards are presented to alumni who have achieved distinction in their profession; or through exemplary service to the University or the wider community; or through outstanding service of a personal or humanitarian nature.

The Awards were initiated by our founding universities and the first recipient was Sir Terry Leahy, former Chief Executive of Tesco plc (UMIST) and Mr Barry Purves, Film Director, (Victoria University of Manchester).

Professor Johnson’s 40 years of success in chemistry in the UK and overseas almost didn’t happen. At 15 years of age the gender prejudices of the time meant Jean was discouraged from pursuing her love of chemistry at A-level by well-meaning family and friends. She didn’t give up her dream though, studying A-levels part-time and then successfully applying to study chemistry at The University of Manchester, from which she graduated in 1966.

After university, Jean moved into teaching, achieving headships at a number of prestigious girls’ schools in the UK, as well as becoming chief examiner for A-level chemistry and principal examiner for several other papers. Jean is now a Chartered Chemist and has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry since 1980.

It is in Africa, however, as a champion of education for the underprivileged, that Jean has made the biggest difference to improving opportunities for others.

A volunteer in East Africa for a decade, Jean has made over 20 visits to run courses for chemistry teachers and students, in Rwanda, Ethiopia and particularly Uganda. She has raised money for new laboratories and libraries, equipped with donated books and equipment collected, packed and sent out by Jean, at her own expense. In 2013, she raised funds to build a new primary school near Congo and is working with that school to provide A-level science facilities, determined to continue her work empowering impoverished children through education.

Presiding Officer, Dean and Vice President of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Professor Colin Bailey, said: “I am extremely pleased to welcome back Jean Johnson, one of our former students. Her selfless work to provide a good education and educational facilities for those without access to them truly deserves our recognition.”

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