SF Professor in the Running to Snap Up State Teacher of the Year Award

A presentation with the word “poop” in the title garnered Santa Fe Biology Professor Dr. Jerry Johnston a shot at AFC’s 2011 Professor of the Year award.

The Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) is the professional association for Florida’s 28 public community colleges. AFC selected 10 semi-finalists back in April, and asked them each to present a 15-minute teaching demonstration at the organization’s spring conference in St. Augustine in May.

“The title of my teaching demonstration was ‘Plants, Parents and Poop,'” said Johnston, who joined SF’s Natural Sciences Department in 2003. “The focus is on understanding fruit from a plant’s point of view. In nature, fruits are actually part of a successful parenting strategy by many plants. The poop part of the story is a little gross but certainly memorable.”

Gross or not, he impressed the committee, which selected him as one of three finalists for the award. The winner will be announced at next week’s AFC conference in Naples.

SF Biology Professor Beatriz Gonzalez nominated Johnston. She praised his teaching style, writing, “Dr. Johnston is an outstanding teacher. He has very high standards, but is very clear on what his expectations are and helps his students achieve those standards.”

Johnston said he implemented a teaching approach that incorporated the qualities of the professors he found most effective and inspirational back when he was a student. He provides his students with a variety of educational activities that engage students and encourage them to think critically, powered by his enthusiasm.

“Few people have the opportunity to do a job they truly love. I am one of those fortunate people,” Johnston wrote in a letter to the AFC. “Teaching is simply a natural extension of who I am. I have a genuine passion for life and the myriad amazing stories of how living things do what they do. I want students to realize that learning and fun are not mutually exclusive. Science can, in fact, be really cool!”

This is a concept he has successfully conveyed. He’s so inspired his students that over the past five years, 28 have attended at least one scientific meeting, nine have co-authored posters, two have given oral presentations, and 10 have authored or co-authored at least one paper published in a scientific journal (18 publications in all!).

In addition to his work in the classroom, Johnston founded and directs the Santa Fe River Turtle Project, a local conservation effort spearheaded by SF and UF students in cooperation with several local, state and national organizations. He has spent hundreds of hours each of the past six years managing the program, conducting research, educating the public, mentoring young scientists and representing SF both locally and internationally.

The television programs Wild Florida and Dangerous Encounters have featured Johnston, as will an upcoming National Geographic film about alligator snapping turtles. He is a member of the Florida Academy of Sciences, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, and Turtle Survival Alliance. He is also a member of the Florida Academy of Sciences and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.  

Johnston serves as advisor to SF’s Herpetology Club, a team of student researchers who conduct ecological studies on the amphibians and reptiles of northern Florida. In that role, he has created research opportunities, organized clean-ups and exotic plant removal events in the Santa Fe River and springs, and inspired students to become involved in student government.  

“Dr. Johnston has shaped me into the scientist I am today; to him I owe most of my success as a biologist,” wrote former SF student and Herpetology Club member Eric Suarez. “He teaches his students how to think critically and become a successful professional, which is a critical tool not only in biology, but in life.”

Photo caption: Dr. Johnston is shown holding a Florida snapping turtle

~ press release by Amanda Hernandez, Communication Specialist, College Relations

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