Faculty Spotlight: Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson's approach to teaching is derived from a quote by businessman and former Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, who said "I am not a pearl, I am not the oyster that makes the pearl, I am the grain of sand that irritates the oyster to make the pearl." An Assistant Professor in the Community Education, Business & Applied Technology Division, Steve knows his students will benefit most by doing the hard work and learning the processes, not just arriving at a correct answer. Sometimes getting students to buy into that philosophy is a bumpy road. It’s not uncommon for Steve to tell a frustrated student that "it’s less important that you like me now, than 10 years from now when you realize the value of what I made you learn."

Born in Taiwan, Steve moved to Maryland when he was six. His educational background includes a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from the University of Maryland and a Master's degree in Instructional Systems Design from UMBC. His early career involved overseeing the Computer Aided Design work for a developer. At that time computer aided design was new, so Steve found himself quickly assuming the role of a specialist. Eventually he started his own consulting business. He then learned of an instructional opening for a Friday evening Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) class for the interior design program at Harford. That marked the beginning of Steve's 25 years at Harford; he now teaches most of the College's CADD classes. Although he reduced the number of clients he works with since starting full time at HCC in 2002, he still likes to consult when time allows in order to maintain insight into how companies work. He can then share this knowledge with students and develop course material that focuses on the specific skills that employers seek. Likewise, Steve tries to stay connected with former students to not only learn about what they're doing, but also to learn if there's anything for which they were not prepared.

Steve sees CADD as a great route for those who like to build, make, explore, and be creative, but who do not necessarily want to go through the process of becoming architects or engineers. As the industry continues to grow, so too will the demand for well-trained, qualified junior designers. CADD skills are in huge demand with companies looking to fill positions at a rate faster than Steve can provide them. It is a rare week that Steve does not hear from an employer or recruiter looking for students to hire.

Success for Steve is helping those students who want to "move a notch higher" in a job and need specific skills that will open a door, or want to change their career and can leverage their practical knowledge with the technical knowledge they gain in this program. He tries hard to get students to commit themselves to mastering the skills and abilities that will help them become successful junior designers. He demands a lot of them, but firmly believes that establishing good habits and work ethics early pays great dividends later when they’re on the job.

Steve is most motivated by getting that "Aha!" moment from his students. "Seeing the look in the eyes of a student who wasn't getting it when they suddenly get it is immensely satisfying," says Steve. "When the logic makes sense and the light bulb goes off – it’s all worth it." From the very first day of class, Steve encourages his students to take the responsibility to find solutions for difficulties they encounter. Every student experiences challenges during their education, and challenges will likely occur throughout their career. He believes the goal is not to avoid challenges, or allow them to control their success, but to find ways to succeed despite them, or even better, to use them to become even more successful.

Steve expects the same from himself. In the early 2000s when many students were withdrawing from classes because they were working overtime, often missing multiple classes in a row, Steve began recording classes using Smart Board technology and making the videos available to all students. Not only did this resolve the original problem, allowing students to "attend classes virtually," but many more students reported that being able to review the lecture multiple times resulted in their understanding the material much better. Currently Steve produces 10+ hours of video each week during the semester. Unfortunately, the constantly changing nature of CADD means that new videos must be produced each year, but Steve believes the investment is worth it. The value of the videos is the most commonly mentioned item on student course evaluations. Graduates often mention that they keep the videos to refer to years after graduation.

Steve is also passionate about his involvement with the General Education Committee, for which he serves as co-chair. He sees General Education as much more than learning theoretical academic concepts long enough to pass an exam or write a paper. Steve believes that General Education is about learning to embrace and apply critical life skills in a way that allow us to be more successful throughout our lives. He feels strongly about the need to get students to want to care about doing their best work in all realms – not just when a particular item is being graded. He questions how we can get students to realize basic skills (such as writing) matter for life and are a part of the bigger picture: "They should be bothered if something isn’t done correctly," says Steve.

In his spare time Steve gardens, makes hand turned wooden pens, and argues with his African grey parrot. He and his wife Karen like to cook homemade dinners, especially for a Bible study group that meets at their home on Friday evenings. Steve takes advantage of the summer break to travel to Brazil to work with Pioneer Missions, a group that teams up with local Brazilian churches to build chapels in poor or developing areas where communities have limited resources. He has been involved in building 13 chapels since 2000. His primary work is building trusses and furniture for the chapels, along with providing manual labor. Finally, Steve believes it is not enough to understand how to do something if you do not put it to use in a practical way that changes people's lives. He hopes to return to Brazil next summer for his 14th chapel.

The College is proud to recognize Steve for his exceptional dedication and comprehensive contributions to students, to HCC, and to the greater community.