Center for Excellence Honoree: Donn JohnsonWhen Professor Donn Johnson is explaining the concepts of economics in his courses, he is just as much a student as he is a teacher.
"I never saw how things pieced together until I started teaching," he said. Students can get away with just remembering material; however, teaching forces Johnson to understand concepts, so he can explain them. When he teaches, he is learning.
"What I really try to do is get students to see what I see," Johnson said. "I ask myself, 'How did I come to understand this.'"
Michael Barron '04 of Lakeville, Mass., said Johnson is an expert at getting students to enjoy economics. "Professor Johnson brings tremendous enthusiasm to class," Barron said. "He cares about his students, and that's reflected in his teaching. He is just as comfortable discussing the inefficiencies of the federal tax code as he is the Denver Broncos' defense." Johnson is an avid football fan, who teaches sports economics and has written articles about it.
Junior Michelle Streckenbach, a biomedical sciences major from Medford, N.Y., took Principles of Microeconomics with Johnson. "He made the material very interesting"' she said. "I thought that was amazing, because economics bored me in high school. He took the time to make sure every one of his students understood the concepts he was trying to convey."
Along with one faculty member, Barron and Streckenbach are two of eight students who nominated Johnson for the Excellence in Teaching Award.
Johnson's teaching style includes lots of analyzing. He examines what students say and expects students to do the same to each other and to him. "I'm a steady stream of questions in class," Johnson said.
He prefers analysis rather than students storing information in their heads. "The last thing I want students to do is memorize lists," Johnson said.
Laughing also is part of his teaching. "I tease students and make fun of myself," Johnson said. "There is nothing wrong with showing students you like being there. I enjoy teaching now more than when I started."
Raised in Colorado Springs and Denver, Johnson earned his bachelor's degree in economics in 1977 from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He liked math and numbers, so he majored in accounting until he took an economics course.
"I wasn't enthused about accounting," Johnson said. "At 18, I couldn't see myself doing accounting for the rest of my life and economics intrigued me. It's interesting analytically, and I like solving problems."
Bob Keller, Johnson's adviser at Colorado State, suggested he attend graduate school to pursue a master's degree in economics, which he did at Washington State University in Pullman. "Bob and I are still friends today," Johnson said.
To help pay for graduate school, Washington State offered Johnson a teaching assistantship. That is when he first entered a classroom other than as a student. "I realized quickly that I liked teaching," Johnson said.
After graduating from Washington State in 1979 with his master's, Johnson worked and taught for five years, including at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. He decided teaching was what he wanted to do, so he returned to Colorado State University and graduated with a doctorate in agricultural and resource economics in 1989. His dissertation was "Economic Benefits of Alternative Fishery Management Programs." Johnson returned to the University of Northern Iowa to teach for seven years before coming to Quinnipiac in 1996.
Fly fishing to catch trout is Johnson's favorite pastime. He remembers fishing experiences as far back as anything else he can remember. "I'm a nut about fishing," he said. "At first, it was just exciting to catch a fish. Now it's that plus the places I fish, the way I fish, fly tying and the history, art and literature of the sport."
Johnson fishes about 15 times per year, down from 40 when he lived in Colorado. He goes to the Farmington River in New Hartford and the Housatonic River in Cornwall. He also owns approximately 1,000 books about fly fishing.
Johnson and his wife Kathy live in North Haven with their daughter, Alex, 11, and son Bryce, 5.