Building Education in Science and Math

Photo of Steve and Carol JohnsonSteve and Carol Johnson have had highly successful careers in the biotech and life sciences fields. Now their planned gift to DePaul will help students in STEM fields find their paths to success as well.

When Steve Johnson (CSH ’77) enrolled at DePaul, he was one of only two undergraduate physics majors in his class at the university. Instead of wondering if he’d have enough support, he dove right in and carved his own niche.

Steve noticed an observatory dome on top of the DePaul Academy building and found out that the observatory and its telescope, which dated from about 1910, were in a state of disrepair. With the help of his physics professor, Anthony Behof (CSH ’59), he organized a dozen friends to help refurbish and clean the equipment so they could observe the return of Comet West to the inner solar system.

Steve and his friends took the 14-inch mirror, “encrusted with pigeon droppings,” Steve recalls, to a local optical shop to have it refurbished. They then repaired the electronics and used crowbars to lift the dome back onto its revolving track. It was a huge, grimy project, but in the end, they were able to observe the comet on its closest approach to Earth in 1975-76.

While at DePaul, Steve began to assemble and tinker with early versions of personal computers, encouraged by Helmut Epp, PhD, then a professor in the mathematics department. “DePaul was—and is—that kind of place,” he says. “It’s a place where motivated students with a passion for science, math, or any subject are supported formally and informally to pursue that passion and make something of it.”

Steve would go on to The Ohio State University to earn a master’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering. There he met Carol, who received her doctorate in veterinary medicine and veterinary pathology. Following careers at leading life sciences firms, the couple recently retired from Amgen Inc.—where Steve worked on advanced mathematical and physics models to analyze clinical, research, and business problems and Carol worked on major oncology research projects.

Steve grew up in Chicago, the son of a factory worker and stay-at-home mother. He was a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program at Weber High School and was eager to continue his education as a first-generation college student.

“I was interested in science and technology, but I also wanted a classical collegiate education that included the humanities,” he says. “After looking at all the options, DePaul fit the bill.” The university provided Steve with financial support, and his professors went out of their way to encourage and assist him. “I remember with such deep affection the teachers who helped me along the way,” he says.

Steve reconnected with DePaul by agreeing to serve on the advisory board of the College of Science and Health (CSH) and has been gratified to watch education in science and math grow at DePaul. Today CSH has more than 2,600 undergraduates, with about 75 physics majors and another 25 minoring in the subject.

Donors like the Johnsons are integral to CSH’s growth and DePaul’s ability to respond to educational needs. Through a bequest, the Johnsons will establish the Steven F. and Carol W. Johnson Endowment, which will help support students enrolled in STEM programs through scholarship assistance, research funding, and other opportunities. “We made this gift because it’s more important than ever to support students pursuing science and math and the educators who engage and help them move forward,” says Carol.

“DePaul has created top-notch educational programs for students in science, math, and technology,” Steve adds. “It retains that special commitment to first-generation college students. It feels good to support such a special place.”


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