Mary Johnson takes reins of RI Academic Decathlon

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Mary Johnson of Warwick will succeed Sue Melaragno as executive director of the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, it was announced this week by decathlon board chairman John Howell.

Melaragno announced this year that she would be scaling back her involvement with the decathlon because of increased teaching responsibilities and personal commitments. She served as director for seven years.

The decathlon founded in 1983 conducts an annual academic competition open to all high schools in the state with the state’s winning team being sent to the United States Academic Decathlon. The Bishop Hendricken High School team represented the state this year in Garden Grove, California.

The 2016 state competition will be held Sunday, March 20 at the Knight Campus of CCRI. The 2016 national competition will be held in Anchorage, Alaska in April.

Johnson has an extensive background in working with extra-curricular programs, which she believes has the power “to change kids’ lives.”

As the Executive Director of Rhode Island Students of the Future, she helped teachers and parents engage elementary and middle school students in science, technology, engineering and math through robotics. During her time with Rhode Island Students of the Future, the statewide FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics program grew from 42 to 74 teams, while significantly increasing the number of girls on teams from 25 to 42 percent of participants. In 2013, FIRST recognized Rhode Island as an innovative model FLL program and Johnson received the Outstanding Commitment Award from FIRST founder Dean Kamen. In 2014, with the support of the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative at Brown University, Johnson and Rhode Island Students of the Future created the award-winning Robot Block Party, a showcase of robotics in education, academic research and industry.

For more than 20 years, Johnson and her husband Keith have worked together, creating and producing educational assemblies that bring science and math to life for young people.  “Bubbleology” their best-selling show about the science of soap bubbles, was featured on National Geographic TV and on the Discovery Channel’s “Time Warp” in addition to fascinating audiences at festivals, schools and libraries across the country.

 Johnson serves on the planning committee of the Rhode Island Mini MAKER Faire, an annual celebration of innovation, engineering, the arts and technology. She helps raise puppies to become service dogs as part of the J.J. Moran Prison Pup Partnership with NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans.

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