Earth System Science Education: Don Johnson's Leadership in Systemic Reform (Invited Presentation)
In 1991, motivated in part by the recent release of NASA's Earth System Science: A Closer View report, Don put forward a strategy for an interdisciplinary education program to help develop the next generation of Earth system scientists, partnering with colleagues at NASA and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). Don recognized the need to overcome disciplinary boundaries that prevent full understanding of the Earth system. His focus was to educate students who would be better prepared to appreciate, understand and apply the coming wealth of NASA's Earth Observing System data. Known as the Cooperative Universities Based Program for Earth System Science Education (ESSE) – and later ESSE 21 - the programs led a nationwide collaborative effort in the creation and offering of Earth system science courses for the undergraduate classroom and laboratory. With NASA support through USRA, ESSE and ESSE 21 enabled 63 college and university teams to develop courses, curricula, learning resources and degree programs in Earth system science. Over 130 Earth system science courses were created around the country. Nearly all of them continue to be taught long after funding has been exhausted. The new knowledge and perspective within these courses emphasizes the connectedness of air, water, land, life and social processes. This knowledge helps to shape the careers of students majoring in the sciences. It also helps shape attitudes of non-science majors who are learning to make better informed decisions about issues regarding stewardship of the planet.
The ESSE efforts became a centerpiece for NASA's Earth science education systemic change efforts at the undergraduate level. In parallel, Don introduced ESSE concepts and led a series of workshops for the Inter American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) that reached over a dozen institutions in Central and South America. Don's early leadership in Earth system science education helped set the tone and context for the growth and development of the field into today's respected foundation of the NASA and NSF Earth science research programs. The resulting network of educators and students engaged in ESS continues to extend Don's vision today, in colleges and universities, in industry and government, across the Nation and around the world.