Tireless STEM Advocate Johnson Nabs Top Award
Lt. Col. Jake Johnson remembers all the specifics — the exact location, the exact year it all fell into place. Johnson, who currently serves as the director of both the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Blast Injury Research Coordinating Office and the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program Office, was in seventh grade collecting plants for a classroom experiment when he realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing the exact same type of work. It was, as he says, a revelatory experience.
"When it comes to science — if there's room for me, there's room for everyone," says Johnson, who — as the first person in recent history to be named director of both BIRCO and JTAPIC — has clearly come a long way since digging in the dirt behind his middle school. "Even better," he says, "what I love about science is that you don't have to wear a white coat to be doing it."
That love shines through not only in the way Johnson talks about his current efforts, but also in the way he conveys the possibilities of scientific discovery to others. For those reasons and more, Johnson was recently named the Department of Defense STEM Advocate of the Quarter for his efforts in promoting science, technology, engineering and math disciplines to school students both locally and across the country, too. The award, which highlights Johnson's work in the second quarter of this year, was presented during a virtual ceremony on October 17.
"This award is a victory for MRDC and its robust STEM program," said Johnson in an interview prior to the ceremony. "This award is like the icing on a volunteer cake. It certainly wasn't expected — or even necessary — but it's wonderful to be recognized."
Johnson has long been a supporter of MRDC's annual Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program, where he's routinely delivered onsite presentations on the importance of science and related fields to participating GEMS students. Earlier this year, in partnership with Frederick County Public Libraries, Johnson helped kick-off a separate four-week MRDC STEM Mini-Series; a virtual, pre-recorded event which garnered more than 20 thousand views online and proved to be extremely popular with both children and parents. In addition, Johnson has also served has a highly sought-after national online judge, providing scientific expertise to a myriad of competitions including the DOD eCYBERMISSION event (April 2022), the Battelle Climate Challenge (February 2023), and the NASA Power to Explore event (March 2023), to name a few.
"Congratulations go to Lt. Col. Jake Johnson for being recognized as the DOD STEM Advocate of the Quarter," said Robyn Monaco, children's services supervisor at Urbana Regional Library, who worked closely with Johnson earlier this year on a STEM Mini-Series; a joint venture between Frederick County Public Libraries and MRDC aimed at educating children about science and math. Johnson also participated in the library's "Be A Scientist" program, which delved more specifically into the various professional duties of scientists. "Jake's dedication, passion, and impact on STEM projects with FCPL truly make him well deserving of this prestigious award."
For his part, Johnson says his numerous outreach efforts have roots in the larger mission of the Army. "It's our job to cultivate the next bench, the next crop of young military scientists," he says. He credits his close relationship with personnel at the MRDC Strategic Partnerships Office with feeding his desire to help spotlight the next generation of bright young minds. "It's fantastic that I can be in Maryland, but I can also serve as a judge for something that's happening nationally or even internationally," says Johnson.
Johnson's volunteer outreach efforts on the local level have continued into the summer, as he delivered yet another science-related presentation to students participating in the third week of the MRDC GEMS program at nearby Hood College. Ultimately, he credits his enduring commitment to these efforts to his parents — a father who served in the Vietnam War and who later took a civil service position, and a mother who has served as a nurse for more than 50 years — both of whom fostered a love of science and encouraged him to foster that passion in others, as well. For Johnson, science and its adjacent disciplines offer a chance to fit in, succeed and excel.
"What you're doing with GEMS and our overall focus on STEM — you're provoking thoughts," he says. "What you're really doing is encouraging people to think."