A photograph of Aaron Johnson, a white man in his mid-30s with a beard, wearing a collared shirt and a bow tie.

I’m Aaron Johnson, an Assistant Professor in the Aerospace Engineering Department and a Core Faculty Member of the Engineering Education Research Program at the University of Michigan. I believe in a strong connection between engineering education and research, which is grounded in my experience teaching engineering science courses that students take during their sophomore and junior years.

When I first started teaching an engineering science course myself in Fall 2018 (sophomore mechanics of materials at the University of Michigan), I focused on the mathematical problem-solving processes. A lot of the problems I gave my students had one single answer and featured systems of bars and beams that were devoid of any real-world context. While learning how to do this math is absolutely important, I wasn’t teaching a math course; I was teaching an engineering course. So, in the downtime after my first year of teaching, I asked myself a fundamental question that still motivates my teaching and research today:  What’s the engineering in these engineering science courses, and how can I engage students in the engineering?

To answer this question, my research focuses on bridging the gap between theoretical, well-defined coursework and ill-defined, sociotechnical engineering practice. In my work I use qualitative methods to develop an understanding of how students engage in the productive beginnings of professional practices and how instructors’ pedagogy and assignments can support these productive beginnings.

On this website you can read about my engineering education research projects and view a list of the engineering courses I have taught at many different universities. You can also read a bit about my Ph.D. research on cognitive ergonomics. And, if you’re interested in seeing my entire CV, you can download that here.

If you are a current or prospective U-M student and are interested in working with me on engineering education research as an undergraduate research project or a Ph.D., please reach out! For now, I expect many of Ph.D. students to come through the Engineering Education Research Ph.D. program.

Now, the fun stuff!

I also strongly believe that it’s important to have a life and activities outside of engineering! I always council students to make sure they’re taking time to relax and have fun, as you mental health is of utmost importance. I try to practice what I preach, and always like to share some of my past and present hobbies. While in undergrad I played tenor saxophone in the Michigan Marching Band (see if you can find me in the background of this awesome photo of Braylon Edwards beating Michigan State in triple overtime). In grad school, I created educational videos for middle school students, did sports analytics research and got to appear on ESPN2 talking about NFL field goal kicking, and wrote about science and engineering for a popular audience. In my free time now, I enjoy reading non-fiction and science fiction, collecting LEGO NASA sets, biking, hiking, camping, and playing disc golf.

Lastly, in case you were wondering, my personal top 5 aerospace-related songs are (in no particular order):

  • “The Commander Thinks Aloud” by The Long Winters
  • “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel
  • “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters
  • “Spaceman” by the Killers
  • “Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Shiny Toy Guns (originally written in German by Peter Schilling)