Science Alumni Spotlight: Maggie Johnson

April 12, 2017

Graduation picture at podium

Maggie Johnson was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Alumni medal at the Graduate Center fifty-first commencement in 2015.

"Our future as a nation depends on the education of our children, and computer science must be a part of that education,” you wrote in 2012. This statement, borne of a lifelong commitment to teaching and empowerment, resonated not just for its clarity, but also for its enormity of purpose

Your career began in one of the world’s most storied academic programs. As a senior lecturer in computer science at Stanford University—a role you maintain after nearly a quarter century, much to your students’ delight—you teach courses ranging from discrete mathematics and introductory graphics to ethics and social responsibility. For three years beginning in 2003, you helped lead the department as assistant chair and director of educational affairs and undergraduate studies, setting institutional direction for computer science. Not incidentally, the program continues to appear at or near the top of every major academic ranking.


The arts helped shape your passion for science. Growing up in Chicago, you played several instruments and studied Early Music Performance at the Boston Conservatory, graduating summa cum laude as class valedictorian. As a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Center, you combined your talent in the computer sciences with your love of music, deriving a set of rules that corresponded to a professional musician’s score notations on music by Bach. Sampling the tones of your own harpsichord, you wrote an artificial intelligence system that performed Bach’s harpsichord works based on these rules, creating a performance that matched the musician’s own.

Johnson Honorary Degree 2015

You have described your decision to leave academia for industry as a major change in your life, but a deeply satisfying one. As the director of education and university relations for Google, you not only manage every facet of the company’s technical training and content development, but also its K-12 education programs in STEM and computer science. As you have remarked of your current role: “Google’s culture is academic at its core … [the] spirit of curiosity and exploration is what drives our researchers and engineers to take what our founders conceived to the next level.”

You have also sought to advance education, computing, and science through your work for the National Science Foundation’s National STEM Education Distributed Learning program, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the University of California College Prep Initiative.

Your pursuit of new frontiers and generosity of spirit will elevate generations to come. For your dedication to students of all ages, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is proud to present you with the President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal.