FIRST Welcomes Leaders from Society of Women Engineers and Johnson R&D Corporation to Board of Directors

Executive Director and CEO of Society of Women Engineers and President and Founder of Johnson R&D Corporation Join Board of Global K-12 STEM Organization

MANCHESTER, N.H., June 21, 2018FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international K-12 not-for-profit organization that inspires young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, today announced the election of two new members to the FIRST Board of Directors. With programs that serve students ages 6 to 18, FIRST has exposed millions of young people around the globe to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The new board members, both valued supporters of FIRST, include: Karen Horting, executive director and CEO, Society of Women Engineers (SWE); and Lonnie Johnson, president and founder, Johnson Research and Development Corporation.

“We are honored to welcome two highly respected leaders in STEM to the FIRST Board of Directors,” said Donald E. Bossi, president of FIRST. “Over the past decade, Karen’s leadership at SWE, a FIRST Strategic Alliance, has helped to significantly grow this great partnership through increased employee volunteerism and financial support for FIRST teams. Her unwavering commitment to FIRST and getting more young women involved in STEM will be an asset to the Board. As a lauded inventor, an accomplished leader in STEM, and a longtime supporter of FIRST who serves on the Georgia FIRST Board of Directors, Lonnie brings unique experience and passion to our Board. Their combined energy and expertise will undoubtedly help FIRST broaden its reach and provide opportunities for us to inspire even more students through our programs.”

The FIRST Board is comprised of a cross-section of leaders from business, government, education, and the sciences that have the fiduciary responsibility to provide strategic direction and organizational oversight for all the activities of FIRST. The Governance Committee of the FIRST Board of Directors periodically reviews candidates to nominate individuals who will bring the most to the organization and the Board in terms of experience and expertise to support the longer-term strategic objectives of FIRST.

New FIRST Board members appointed in 2018 are:

Karen Horting, Executive Director and CEO, Society of Women Engineers

Karen Horting

Karen Horting is the executive director and CEO for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a position she has held since December 31, 2013. With more than 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, and fund development, Horting was most recently the SWE deputy executive director. In this capacity, she was responsible for all fund-development activities for the organization, including corporate membership and SWE’s Corporate Partnership Council, as well as more traditional philanthropy such as foundation and government grants, individual gifts, and bequests. She also oversaw many of the Society’s programs and services, including professional development, K-12 outreach, the annual conference and SWE’s international expansion.

Horting came to SWE in March 2004 from the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), where she served as director of strategic planning, managing the academy’s development activities and long-range organizational planning. Prior to her role with NYAS, Horting worked for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, managing both marketing and fund development on a global level for Science’s Next Wave, a groundbreaking career-development website for graduate students and post-doctorates in science, math and technology. Horting’s experience also includes more than 10 years in the paint and coatings industry in a variety of technical service and marketing functions.

Horting holds a B.S. in biology from Northern Illinois University and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University.

SWE has been a FIRST Strategic Alliance since 2008, and Karen’s leadership has helped significantly grow SWE’s level of support and engagement with FIRST. Karen has also worked to increase the number of SWE volunteers at FIRST events, with more than 1,150 SWE members having volunteered in recent years. SWE has also helped FIRST teams financially, including $1,000 grants for 70 FIRST® Robotics Competition teams.

Lonnie Johnson, President and Founder, Johnson Research and Development Corporation

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson is president and founder of Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc., a technology-development company, and its spin-off companies, Excellatron Solid State, LLC; Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems, LLC; and Johnson Battery Technologies, Inc.

Johnson holds a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering, an M.S. degree in nuclear engineering, and an honorary Ph.D. in science from Tuskegee University. Upon graduation, he worked as a research engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and then joined the U.S. Air Force, serving as acting chief of the Space Nuclear Power Safety Section at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1979, he left the Air Force to accept a position as senior systems engineer at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where he worked on the Galileo mission to Jupiter. Returning to the Air Force in 1982, he served as an advanced space systems requirements officer at Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and as chief of the Data Management Branch, SAC Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal on two different occasions. In 1987, he returned to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he worked on the Mars Observer project and was the fault protection engineer during the early stages of the Cassini (Saturn) project.

In 1989, Johnson formed his own engineering firm and licensed his most famous invention, the Super Soaker® water gun, to Larami Corporation. Two years later, the Super Soaker® generated over $200 million in retail sales and became the No. 1 selling toy in America. Over the years, Super Soaker® sales have totaled close to $1 billion. Currently, Johnson holds over 100 patents, with over 20 more pending, and is the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems.

Johnson serves on the Georgia FIRST Board of Directors and has been an active supporter and proponent of FIRST since 2003.  He frequently serves as a judge and speaker at FIRST events and makes more than 20,000 square feet of space in his facility in downtown Atlanta available to FIRST teams for build space and scrimmage events. Lonnie’s daughter participates in FIRST® LEGO® League.


About FIRST® 
Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. With support from over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies and more than $80 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST® Robotics Competition for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League for Grades 4-8; and FIRST® LEGO® League Jr. for Grades K-4. Gracious Professionalism® is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. To learn more about FIRST, go to