By Kara McMurray, College of Education

A WSU faculty member has been awarded the annual Research Award from the Washington Educational Research Association (WERA).

Johnny Lupinacci is an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education (CSSTE) program. His research focuses on ecological perspectives in place-based social studies education and working with teachers and school leaders to address environmental justice in connection with environmental racism in classrooms and communities.

“I’m very pleased with this because it shows that work with teachers in the schools is appreciated and that regardless of the challenge school leaders are interested in social justice and sustainability,” Lupinacci said. “I hope that acknowledgements and honors like this award help to inspire more researchers to partner with teachers and school leaders and work toward safer, healthier and diverse communities for all our neighbors.”

Lupinacci was nominated by colleague Teena McDonald, who said Lupinacci has become a powerful voice for marginalized communities.

“The reason I nominated him is that he really appreciates the work of P-12 educators and seeks ways to make his research have an impact on the practitioners in the field,” McDonald said. “He has such an upbeat and positive attitude towards the work.”

The WERA Research Award is given annually to an individual, group, association or agency conducting research that has state-wide application in terms of results, methodology or analyses.

When asked about how his experiences in education contributed to this research, Lupinacci replied that they played a big role.

“As a former classroom teacher and community activist, I strive for my research to be collaborative and center on issues of social justice and sustainability. The award is a nice recognition that working with teachers in unconventional ways to address topics like climate change in connection with environmental racism and the Black Lives Matter movement is recognized and honored by organizations like WERA.”

He added, “That meant a lot to me, but it meant even more for the teachers, principals, students, and their families to know the work they are doing was being recognized with this award.”

Lupinacci’s research focuses on how people, specifically educators, learn to both identify and examine destructive habits of modern human culture. A lot of his research stems from his experiences as a high school math and science teacher, an outdoor environmental educator and a community activist, as well as his current position in the CSSTE program.

“My experience as a classroom teacher, community activist, and teacher educator all play a strong role as a researcher,” he said. “My position is that all education research ought to be closely connected to practice. My research is always rooted in the connected questions. What does this research mean for schools, teachers, and communities? And, what do teachers need to learn in order to prepare students to live as citizens in socially-just and sustainable communities?”

Lupinacci said he hopes for his research to be impactful.

“(The award) is an honor, because it means that this research is making a difference and my goal is always to be part of the differences that make a difference,” he said. “All research does something—some of it works to keep things the way they are and have been for a long time, and some of it works to end antiquated and unjust practices. I always strive for the latter.”

Lupinacci is co-author of the book EcoJustice Education: Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities. His book received the AESA Critics’ Choice Award in 2011. He is an Imagine Tomorrow Scholar Award Recipient with Alaska Airlines and received the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate Writing Fellowship – Social Justice in 2016, was on the Provost Leadership Academy at WSU in 2016 and received the Faculty Fellowship for Community Engagement in 2017 with the Center for Civic Engagement at WSU.

The Washington Educational Research Association is a not-for-profit organization of professionals working at all levels of education dedicated to improving the practice of instruction, assessment, evaluation, conducting and applying educational research, and using data to inform instructional decisions. WERA works closely together with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to recognize contributions to educational research with five different annual awards that highlight excellence in research in the state of Washington.