Walter Johnson of Suffolk University Named Massachusetts Professor of the Year

11/17/2005

“I'm surprised that I was chosen, but I'm not surprised that Suffolk was chosen,” said Johnson, who will be honored today at an awards luncheon at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., followed by an evening Congressional Reception at the Library of Congress. “Suffolk has so many good teachers that several people here could have won this honor. I'm just pleased to receive this award as a representative of the College of Arts and Sciences and Suffolk University, which prides itself on teaching.”

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was founded in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie “to do all things necessary to encourage, uphold and dignify the profession of teaching.” The Foundation was chartered in 1906 by an act of Congress, and is the only advanced-study center for teachers in the world and the third oldest foundation in the nation.

CASE is the largest international association of educational institutions, with more than 3,200 colleges, universities, and independent elementary and secondary schools in nearly 50 countries, including the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. In 1981, CASE established the Professors of the Year program, and The Carnegie Foundation became the co-sponsor a year later.

This year, there were winners in 40 states, Guam, and the District of Columbia. Johnson was selected from among nearly 400 top professors in the United States.

“Professor Walter Johnson is an extraordinary individual who is a credit to Suffolk University and the entire teaching profession,” said Suffolk University President David J. Sargent. “Over the years, he has continually succeeded to bring out the best in our students, creating new and exciting methods to expand their knowledge by working closely with them in and out of the classroom. He is a remarkable educator.”

Johnson's devotion to Suffolk can be traced back almost 35 years. From the time he taught his first class in 1971 until today, his passion to teach others is what gives him his most satisfaction, his greatest joy, his ultimate reward.

“What I've always enjoyed above everything else is interacting with the students,” said Johnson, who was educated at Rice University in Houston, Texas (B.A. in Physics in 1965), and Harvard University (MS in Physics in 1967 and Ph.D. in Physics in 1972). “I try to teach each student on an individual basis as much I can. I explain things using language that is appropriate for that student at that time. I encourage them to ask questions and for a dialogue to begin. Once that happens, I've got them.”

Since arriving at Suffolk, Johnson has developed a reputation as an innovator, always willing to try new technology – for more advanced ways to teach his students. For example, in order to provide greater detail in his introductory calculus-based physics class, Johnson breaks each topic into small parts through streaming-video mini-lectures and places them on the web. Each mini-lecture is only 10-15 minutes long. This is in addition to the usual in-class lectures.

Explains Johnson, “The students can see and hear me talking in the upper left corner of the screen, while the remainder of the screen is a white board where they see the equations being written just as if they were in class.”

At the Suffolk University-owned marine biological research center on Cobscook Bay in Maine, approximately 350 miles from its Boston campus, Johnson formed an interdisciplinary team of students to build a 14-foot diameter geodesic dome with a heat exchanger inside to produce hot water for the kitchen.

And to properly teach math and science to students at Suffolk's Dakar, Senegal, campus, via distance education, Johnson arranged for Suffolk to purchase and send to Dakar electronic writing tablets. This unique teaching method allows a student to write equations and diagrams using an electronic pen, save their image files and then post them into the “Digital Drop Box” of BlackBoard (web-based course software).

“I too have an electronic tablet, so when I see the homework in my digital mailbox, I grade it and write corrections with equations on their original papers, just as I would for my on-campus classes,” said Johnson. “Then I post it to their mailbox and they can see immediately how they did.”

Johnson lives in Carlisle with his wife, Lea, Director of the Bouve? Institute for Healthcare Leadership and Professional Development at Northeastern University, and their two children (Erin, 23, a grad student at Villanova University, and Adam, 16, a sophomore at Concord-Carlisle High School).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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