Kevin Johnson: Ocean Educator Extraordinaire

by James Wolfe
via Florida Tech Today

“The subjects I teach are, to me, the most fun and exciting subjects in the world. I want my students to walk away with that same feeling!”

Statements like these define Kevin Johnson, not only in what he does, but also how he does it.

Johnson is an associate professor of oceanography in the department of marine and environmental systems. What he does though, and the impact of it, cannot be encapsulated by a title.

He teaches all levels at Florida Tech. From the first footsteps a student takes on campus, through courses like University Experience and Introductory Oceanography, all the way up to graduate classes including Biological Oceanography, Johnson takes the acquisition of knowledge and skills to another level.

He received the College of Engineering’s Walter M. Nunn Jr. Award for Teaching Excellence in 2008, and the university’s Kerry Bruce Clark Award for Teaching Excellence in 2010.

Creative learning endeavors like “Dress as Your Favorite Zooplankton Day” also add hands-on understanding to what would ordinarily be bookwork.

Students often express comments such as: “College has been a breath of fresh air for me, because for the first time since I was in elementary school, I have had the honor of being educated by enthusiastic and dynamic people who love what they do. You are one of those people Dr. J!”

Johnson says he “likes to stay familiar with the attitudes and problems presented by the youngest generation of incoming college students.”

But it’s more than just the classroom that Johnson uses to teach students. He takes undergraduates on research cruises aboard oceanographic research vessels, such as those operated by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS). The oceanography program at Florida Tech is one of the only programs in the country providing undergraduate students time at sea aboard a major vessel … the best imaginable ground for Florida Tech students to get hands-on experience.

He also advises and directs an active research laboratory. His students can get involved in research as course projects, or help with graduate research out of class. As a result, Johnson’s students have presented 30 talks at state, national and international science meetings over the last five years.

Johnson serves on the College of Engineering’s College Curriculum Committee and oversees the department’s interdisciplinary, hands-on summer research program for seniors (DMES Field Projects). Field projects include time at sea aboard an oceanographic vessel and culminates in students giving scientific presentations of their research at a symposium.

At times, Johnson has conducted campus seminars that educate Florida Tech students on the process of research grant applications using the National Science Foundation as a model. He has served as a panelist and panel chair for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program at NSF five times.

Johnson holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, has worked at seven marine field laboratories and accumulated several months of at-sea experience. Before coming to Florida Tech, he had postdoctoral fellowships with the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation.

You might be wondering what Johnson does when he isn’t busy improving the student experience and university? Rockin’ with the faculty band TWITCHY, of course! The band was formed in 2008 in recognition of Florida Tech’s 50th anniversary and has a CD for sale in the bookstore with proceeds benefiting Florida Tech’s music department.

He is also a Cub Scout Leader in the local community and has earned a first degree blackbelt in karate.

Johnson’s first love, however, is the education of young scientists about life in the world’s oceans. And it appears he is getting through to them: “I never felt more engaged or at ‘home’ than when I was sitting in your classroom or in your laboratory. I am grateful to you for many things!”

Statements like these define Johnson, not in what he does or how he does it … but why.

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