Choose any year, and the odds are that it was a milestone year for Mathematics Professor Larry Johnson, who this year celebrates 27 years with Metro State – and his 50th wedding anniversary.
It has been 17 years since Johnson co-founded the Center for Math, Science and Environmental Education with Joseph Raab, professor emeritus of mathematics, and 14 years since the center established the Summer Science Institute (SSI) camp which, to date, has served more than 2,000 middle school students.
In the summer camp, Metro State professors teach classes in biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, earth science, aerospace, meteorology and physics to students in 5th-8th grade. Students get to spend their last day at Elitch Gardens, using the rides to perform physics research and take measurements using accelerometers.
As the director of SSI, Johnson starts each camp by giving the students “insight into why I think they are here and the importance of going to college in terms of the difference in the money earned over a lifetime and the quality of life that can generate.”
Reflecting on his path in life, he’s happy with the choices he’s made, namely choosing academia over corporate America. He was posed with the proverbial fork in the road while serving as a full-time instructor at the University of Wyoming and waiting for its Ph.D. programs to start. He was offered a career in Silicon Valley with GE working in their nuclear energy program.
“This would have been in San Jose at a time when the computer world was burgeoning,” he says of the era when the Bill Gates of the world were setting the stage to make their mark. “I had to debate for a while, but my motto has always been people over things,” says Johnson. “I invest in people.”
Investing in himelf, Johnson was the second person to graduate from the University of Wyoming mathematics program with a Ph.D., and probably hasn’t had the time to look back. But, the impact of the Information Age was not lost on him. He championed the establishment of the College’s computer science program and was the founding dean of the School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.
“I worked at Purdue before here, and knew a computer science program would be important. In order to compete in the world economy, this nation’s competitiveness relies on us developing the talent we have in sciences and mathematics.”
Through countless classes and mentor roles spanning his more than three decades in education, success stories like that of 26-year-old Benjamin Cooper keep Johnson looking forward. Cooper, a mathematics alumnus, has twice served as a counselor in the SSI program and will start a Ph.D. program at Colorado State University in the fall.
Johnson has been Cooper's mentor for more than three years at the College and through the Louis Stokes Colorado Alliance for Minority Participation (LS-COAMP). The organization’s mission is to double the number of historically and currently under-represented American Indian, African American, Hispanic and Pacific Islander students earning bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
Cooper says the SSI camp “gives everybody a way to shine.” Thanks to Johnson.
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