‘It comes back to great teachers’ – News – The Wellsville Daily Reporter

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SUNY chancellor connects with educators at STEM Summer Institute
ALFRED — With a STEM Summer Institute theme of “STEM Connects All, Never Too Early, Never Too Late,” SUNY Chancellor Dr. Kristina M. Johnson made connecting with participants at the New York State Education Collaborative conference at Alfred State College last week look as natural as a mid-summer thunderstorm.As it turned out, the top administrator of the nation’s largest public university system chose the perfect day — bright sunshine, nary a cloud, and no thunder or rain — to make her first ever visit to the College of Technology campus in Alfred, as she served as the keynote speaker on the final day of the July 28-30 STEM Summer Institute. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math — fields that are driving education for the 21st century economy.Johnson, a native of Colorado who earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University in Pal Alto, Calif., was impressed with the Southern Tier region and with Alfred State.“First of all, I think the whole community is beautiful,” she told The Spectator. “We flew into Rochester and then driving down. First, it is just beautiful country. Two, two-thirds of our SUNY campuses teach STEM curriculum, including Alfred State. And Alfred State is part of what we call our Colleges of Technology, and as a College of Technology almost half of the students get some kind of internship, experimental learning, something that will prepare them to go right into the workforce.”Johnson, who became the 13th SUNY chancellor in September 2017, spoke to STEM educators from across the state who gathered on the Alfred State campus for three days of presentations and tours of the college’s Micro-Nano Fabrication Laboratory, and its agriculture and nursing facilities. The conference focused on best practices for increasing interest in STEM careers among students.Johnson spoke as a colleague, sharing her early educational experiences that have led to a remarkable career, including administrative posts at Duke and Johns Hopkins universities, a professorship at the University of Colorado-Boulder, a stint as Under Secretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, earning the prestigious John Fritz Medal in energy, and holding 118 patents.“It comes back to great teachers,” Johnson said of her initial interest in science, technology, the environment and practical, hands-on learning.In junior high, she said, her favorite teachers brought “biology and environmental science to life” by studying the food chain and showing how poisoning the coyotes with DDT actually killed off the eagles.“And you could see that once we banned DDT in Colorado in the 1970s the eagle populations started coming back,” she said.“We would go out and actually count birds,” Johnson continued. “So it was really experimental learning that made a big impression on me. Our teacher got us out to clean up vacant lots. So I used to collect cans. And I don’t know if you remember this, but you can recycle 11 aluminum cans that weigh about one pound and you got 11 cents.”She said her high school physics teacher was “all about the science fair,” giving extra credit for participating, no matter how good or bad a participant’s entry may be.“That was the original motivation,” Johnson said of her desire for extra credit. “After I got past that, and I was the only one who took him up on the offer, I realized that physics and optics, which was what my science fair project was about, was all about magic. Once I could relate magic to the science class, I got pretty excited about it.“My first year I entered the science fair I didn’t do that well, but I learned a lot. My second year I started in February. The first science fair, which was for the city was in March, and the state’s was in April, and the international was in May. And it worked out very well, I went to the international and got first and second place for a double-exposure holography.”Some 35 years later, Johnson was an Under Secretary of Energy during the April 2010 BP oil spill.“We were poised with what could have been the largest natural disaster to every face the planet,” Johnson said.After meeting President Obama and telling him the department was doing everything it could to understand the scope of the disaster and contain it, Johnson said she realized that, “the experiment that I had done back in 1975, that double-exposure holography, could actually tell me how much oil was coming out.“Within two days the President walked out into the Rose Garden and told the American people, ‘We know 20,000 barrels are coming out, we think we have a way of capping it.’ And it just allowed us at least to give some calm while we were trying to figure out what we should do next.“It went back to that little kid being in that physics classroom with (her teacher). You never know how every kid that you teach every day may change the world from something you said or something you encouraged him or her to do.”Johnson praised her male science teachers, saying they sparked her interest in the field, but she said the paucity of female role models in STEM studies was discouraging. Initially, she said, it never occurred to her that she could be a science professor as a career.Johnson said she is very proud of the new SUNY program called, PRODiG, which stands for Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth. Through the effort, SUNY plans to significantly increase the number of faculty members from underrepresented minorities and women in STEM disciplines.“We are on track to hire a hundred new faculty starting this fall,” she said. “I think if you see it, you know you can be it.”Near the end of her remarks, Johnson noted that the annual three-day conference is about more than illuminating the importance of the technical sciences in society, saying, “It’s really about the future of our society and our economy.”She also concluded, “The future belongs to nations that understand the importance of STEM education.”According to the NYSSEC Collaborative, the full conference provided up to 17 hours of Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) certified professional development.Additionally, several STEM leaders were presented with the 2019 Summer Institute Margaret Ashida STEM Leadership Award, which seeks to honor those who are making significant STEM connections within their community through their time, actions, talents, and dedication.This year’s honorees included Jennifer Leonberger, instructional support teacher at Greater Southern Tier (GST) BOCES; Ellen Falk, a mathematics teacher at North Salem High School; Dr. Lorena Harris, the director of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (C-STEP) and the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP) at SUNY Schenectady; Lisa Blank, the director of STEM programs for the Watertown Central School District; and James King, a partner at King + King Architects.Dr. Craig Clark, vice president for Economic Development at Alfred State, said, “This year’s institute again included great presentations and keynotes that allow faculty to connect and continue to improve STEM education. Thank you to the SUNY chancellor, as well as all of our speakers, presenters, attendees, and supporters for once again making this conference such a success.”

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