Image of Ahjah JohnsonOther-focused is how CGS summer intern Ahjah Johnson describes the guiding principle of her life. She has big career goals, but at the heart of everything is her desire to help people. As a freshman at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, she was working to get into the nursing program, but by her sophomore year, she was struggling to meet the requirements. She looked at the courses she had and compared them to other options and discovered that public health was a good fit with her academic interests and would still allow her to focus on helping other people. So, she pivoted and says, “Everything worked out perfectly. It aligns with who I am as a person and my values. It felt a little bit like fate.”

Johnson was part of the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) at the University of Arkansas. The initiative’s mission is to increase the number of historically disenfranchised and underrepresented professionals in student affairs and/or higher education. She describes the experience as intense, but credits her mentor Jameel Braddock with helping her navigate the program. Johnson says she was over committed in extracurricular activities, and “he called me in and was like, ‘this physiology grade isn’t going to come up unless you let something go.’ He may have been the only person on campus who I felt really had my best interest in mind. We still keep in touch.”

After graduating with her B.A. in public health and an eight week internship at Washington University in St. Louis, Johnson pivoted again. This time to The Ohio State University for their master’s in student affairs program. After her time in the undergraduate fellows program, she decided that she wanted a career in student affairs, and that meant going to graduate school. To Johnson the connection between public health and student affairs is obvious: they’re both other-focused fields.

Johnson is currently in the student affairs higher education doctoral program at Miami University of Ohio, where she’s studying various structures of support and curriculum design. Ahjah’s research widely focuses on the identity development of Black women in higher education and beyond, as well as their intersecting oppressions of adultism and adultification.  When she finishes her PhD, Johnson says she’s open to a lot of opportunities, but her long-term goal is to be tenured faculty and someday, dean of a graduate school. She served as a graduate student representative on Miami University’s search committee and found it to be an eye-opening experience, but her biggest takeaway was that there needs to be more people who look like her: in the applicant pool, in the room where the decisions are made, and in higher education more broadly.

In addition to her doctoral work, Johnson is focused on giving back to her university community. She’s a writing consultant on campus, helping undergraduate and graduate students improve their writing, something she says she never thought possible given her dyslexia. Johnson is also the incoming president of the Graduate Students of Color Association at Miami University.

When asked about advice for prospective graduate students, Johnson replied, “Whatever obstacle you think you have, you can overcome them. I didn’t find out I had dyslexia or ADHD until I was working full time, right before I started my PhD program. I jumped over a lot of obstacles, a lot of bad grades and a lot of terrible exams, and only recently understood why it was so hard for me. So, anything is possible. Don’t count yourself out, count yourself in.”