Physics professor aims to make STEM more inclusive

Libby Bullinger, Copy editor

Earlier this year, Mercyhurst Physics professor Joseph Johnson, Ph.D., celebrated the publication of a book he co-edited.

The text, “Internalization of STEM Education,” focuses on the integration of research-based instructional practices into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classrooms.

Johnson was one of four editors of the text, along with Augusto Z. Macalalag, Ph.D., Ismail Sahin, Ph.D., and Ali Bicer, Ph.D. The process of creating the book initially began as just a special issue of the International Journal of Technology in Education (IJTE), but Johnson and his colleagues were inspired to create more and turn it into an entire literary publication.

The purpose of the text is to address issues of STEM education, an area that is widely unrecognized in the STEM research community.

Johnson also mentions that the book provides a unique twist on STEM education by incorporating it into special populations such as special education settings.

In addition to co-editing the entire publication, Johnson also co-wrote the first chapter of the text: “Encouraging STEMpathy: A review of literature addressing STEM learning for students with special education services in inclusive learning environments.”

Johnson reveals that inspiration for this chapter specifically derived from several friends and colleagues of his. Johnson’s Ph.D. advisor, Randy Yerrick, Ph.D., has done previous work involving equity in science education which opened Johnson’s eyes to the topic and has caused him to think about it over the years of teaching.

Yerrick was not the only form of inspiration for this chapter, however. Johnson also mentioned one of his best friends, Mike Zielinski, as playing a major role in his involvement in special education in STEM.

Zielinski works as Director of Education at Coastal Harbor Treatment Center in Savannah, Georgia, leading the two to have various conversations over the years revolving around “the difficulties and limited resources for teaching STEM subjects in special education settings.”

This topic fits right into the remainder of the text which also highlights ideas of gender roles and international views on STEM education.

Johnson’s involvement on this project began back in August 2021. Co-editors of the book met monthly to discuss formatting, invite special guest authors for certain chapters, dividing up work reviewing each chapter and providing direct feedback to chapter authors.

For his chapter specifically, Johnson and his team met more often, about once a week, to create content and work on the proposed edits.

The intended audience of the book can extend to a variety of individuals including education researchers, STEM teachers and administration personnel who are implementing curriculum.

Johnson’s unique take on the sometimes intimidating field of STEM provides fresh new information for the science community.

Johnson reflects on his time teaching at Mercyhurst as an extension of this work, mentioning the work and mission of the Sisters of Mercy who were particularly interested in creating learning opportunities for underserved communities.

Johnson concludes, “given how closely addressing these issues aligns with the Mercy mission here at Mercyhurst, it is certainly something that is and will continue to occur here.”