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Congratulations, Mrs. Johnson!

Stephanie Johnson has been named a finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council's Women of Innovation award! A driving force behind the school's pioneering STEAM and robotics programs, Mrs. Johnson is nominated in the Secondary Academic Innovation and Leadership Category for her efforts to engage students in STEAM fields.

Now in its 15th year, the Women of Innovation Award recognizes women accomplished in science, technology, engineering, and math who are involved in volunteer and community service efforts and their communities. The Connecticut Technology Council also recognizes individuals who promote equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the STEAM arena.

The current school year has brought some well-deserved accolades for Mrs. Johnson, our long-time science and STEAM teacher, who in addition to her work inside the classroom is one of two coaches for the school's popular and highly competitive robotics program, a Middle School advisor, and a member of the Board of Trustees. This fall, at the regional First Lego League Robotics Tournament, where the Wise Guys team qualified once again for the state championship, Mrs. Johnson brought home the award for Best Mentor.

Mrs. Johnson and her Best Mentor award. 


Mrs. Johnson and robotics team members at a First Lego League tournament.

The robotics program and other Country School STEAM initiatives championed by Mrs. Johnson recently inspired a major gift to the school to advance coding, engineering, and robotics. This winter, The Country School gratefully accepted a $50,000 gift from Drs. Jonathan and Bonnie Rothberg, Country School parents, to help prepare students to lead in a technology-driven future. Jonathan Rothberg, Ph.D., is a scientist and entrepreneur who invented high-speed, "Next-Gen" DNA sequencing, a National Medal of Technology and Innovation awardee, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Bonnie Gould Rothberg, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., is an Oncology Hospitalist in the Oncology Extended Care Clinic at the Smilow Cancer Hospital and earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Cancer Epidemiology. The Country School is proud to join Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and Choate Rosemary Hall, where the Rothberg Catalyzer is already established.

The news that Mrs. Johnson had been selected as a Woman of Innovation finalist was met with joy, but not surprise, on campus. "I feel so fortunate to be serving The Country School at a time when Stephanie Johnson is giving herself to her students with such inspiring devotion," said Head of School John Fixx. "Just by her example, Stephanie elevates the potential of all students — and especially girls, perhaps — to pursue careers and professions that involve the sciences, engineering, robotics, and all the components of STEAM. One of the marks of an excellent teacher, like Stephanie, is that she makes her surrounding colleagues better teachers, as well."

Mrs. Johnson, who began teaching science at The Country School in 2005, was instrumental in developing the school's STEAM curriculum when it was introduced to campus in 2011. The notion was that more students might be inspired to engage in the so-called STEM fields if the arts were added to the mix (hence, the cross-curricular STEAM model - with the A for Arts), a formula that requires all participants to engage in problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. Eager to learn more about the emerging field, Mrs. Johnson attended an array of STEAM workshops and symposiums, including the STEM to STEAM conference at the Rhode Island School of Design, the major academic force behind the effort to integrate the arts and design into the STEM fields.

Out in the field for a STEAM unit on birds.

She brought her learning back to her colleagues at The Country School, which soon gained recognition as a leader in the STEAM movement at the elementary and middle school levels. Mrs. Johnson subsequently shared her experience with outside audiences as well, leading a workshop at RISD's 5th Biennial Design Science Symposium on ways to effectively integrate STEAM into elementary classrooms and serving as a science facilitator for the Seedlings Educators Collaborative in New Haven. She also shared her expertise with educators during various Country School professional development offerings designed to introduce STEAM to the broader public.

Among Country School students, Mrs. Johnson has been demonstrably effective at increasing the representation of girls interested in STEM/STEAM fields. According to the National Science Foundation, only 24 percent of the jobs in technical or STEM fields are held by women, but women make up 46 percent of the total workforce. One way to engage more girls, experts say, is to introduce them at an early age to fun, STEM-related activities, such as robotics.

At The Country School, girls are strong and active participants in the school's robotics program. When it began in 2011, most of the participants were male; in recent years, with Mrs. Johnson and her science/STEAM teacher colleague Dr. Amy Cornell serving as mentors and role models, the number of female participants has grown exponentially. This year, 50 percent of the members of the school's Archimedes Owls robotics team were female, and the popular after-school robotics club routinely sees more than 40 students, both boys and girls, participating each week.

Mrs. Johnson's ability to engage and inspire students, both male and female, is visible in the choices being made by Country School alumnae/i. Last year, seven graduates returned to campus to either lead summer camp programs in STEAM-related subjects, including science, computer programming, rocket science, minecraft, robotics, web design, and 3D printing, or to coach robotics for girls in a special on-campus workshop. Of those seven graduates, five were young women, all of whom are choosing to pursue further study or careers in the sciences, engineering, or architecture.

With two former students at a recent robotics tournament.
Anna, center, is now studying engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Christopher, right, is studying engineering at Western New England.

Mrs. Johnson, who received her BA in International Relations and Economics from Brown University and her Masters of Science in Education from Southern Connecticut State University, also inspires students to serve the broader community. For 14 years, she has been one of the coordinators of a Country School community service program through which students prepare and serve dinner once a month at The Community Dining Room, a non-profit in Branford that provides meals and support to families in need. As the faculty member who oversees the on-campus garden, she and students have also planted and harvested produce to serve at The Community Dining Room.

The Country School team at The Community Dining Room.

Students harvesting produce from the garden.

Mrs. Johnson preparing to distribute.

Winners of the Women of Innovation award will be announced on March 27 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT. Congratulations to Mrs. Johnson on being named a finalist in the Secondary Academic Innovation and Leadership category. She is, indeed, among the greatest innovators, leaders, and mentors we know.