When lifelong Pocatellan Billie Johnson was young, she wanted to be a motorcycle cop. “It was the time of the TV show CHiPs.” Instead, she went to engineering school.
Johnson received her bachelor’s and an MBA at Idaho State University. Then, she began her career as an engineer. Johnson describes what she does as a physical design engineer in a blog she writes.
“ON Semiconductor engineers like me have built chips that are now in space helping scientists see. We have DSP (digital signal processing) technology in ears helping people hear. Our ICs (integrated circuits) improve the safety and efficiency of automobiles. Our products are paramount in computing and communication networks and without some of our devices, cell phones might not work.”
In addition to her 9 to 5 job, Johnson spends a lot of time volunteering. Early in her career, she coached a junior varsity volleyball team – she had played volleyball in high school and college. Then, she worked with a middle school math club. “I went from coaching athletes to mathletes,” she says. “We had a blast.” And, while her original intent was to inspire the girls “to develop a love of math and the sciences,” she realized her influence on boys was just as critical. “My messaging for both boys and male colleagues alike is to not just accept us – but expect us. We belong.”
Johnson dusted off a cow costume she had first worn for Halloween while in college and added a cape to become “the Cow-culator. Word got out and I was asked to speak at assemblies and events to let kids know that they, too, could become a problem-solving STEM super hero,” she says.
A few years later, Johnson began writing columns for the Idaho State Journal “with themes centered on a more civic forum for political discussion, diversity and inclusion, girl power, and kindness and humanity.” She became a locally known figure and was soon approached by the school district to deliver monthly CAKE Awards to students celebrating character, attitude, kindness and encouragement – in her cow suit. “I added a purple cape and created the Cow Crusader for Kindness,” Johnson says.
On the tails of that effort (no pun intended), Johnson co- founded Kind Community, a nonprofit focused on promoting kindness in the community, focusing in particular on youth. Johnson also has volunteered helping students and staff at Pocatello High School with LGBTQ issues, and for Idaho State University’s annual Women in Work conference. In 2016 she was the keynote speaker at the conference.
Johnson says she is proud of the work she does and has received a slew of awards. “Personally, receiving the (2015) City of Pocatello’s Human and Civil Rights Award leaves me speechless,” she says. “Knowing that I led the effort for Pocatello’s first residential wind turbine installation makes me proud, and having had the opportunity to be the ‘Cow Crusader for Kindness’ for the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 for the last three years and having that lead to launching a nonprofit with two friends has been life-changing.
“My personal, and un-articulated-until-now, philosophy is … I belong. You belong. We belong. Perhaps it was growing up hearing feisty female rocker Pat Benatar sing it. Perhaps it was my mother telling me over and over and over. Or perhaps it’s after successes (and failures) in any number of arenas, I firmly believe … We belong.”
Johnson, who married Jena Pyke in September 2016, has three step-children: Rian, 16, Finn, 11, and Jack, 8. She still “runs around in a cow costume and blogs about my experiences,” she says, adding that her wife and the two boys also have cow costumes and join in the fun and kindness-spreading adventures. She also likes to go mountain biking and watches reruns of “Friends.” “That just lets me unwind and relax.”