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Presidential Aspirations: Marc Johnson

By Jill Anderson on July 14, 2011 3:53 PM

Marc JohnsonWhile a student at Morehouse College, Ed.D. Candidate Marc Johnson, Ed.M.’99, realized that one day he wanted to be a college president. “Their ambition to prepare leaders in the culture and the ethos compelled me to think about what to do with my life,” he says.

Morehouse’s mission of preparing its students for success in their endeavors resonated deeply with Johnson, who wanted to play a role in ensuring a high-quality college experience for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Today, as a doctoral student at HGSE, Johnson is studying to put himself into position to become the president at one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). “I knew I didn’t want to be an academic,” Johnson says candidly. “I chose higher education administration because it’s where I still feel I can influence student experiences and outcomes.”

This drive to help influence students drew Johnson to HGSE’s Administration, Planning and Social Policy Program. After completing his master’s, Johnson spent several years working in development and, for three years, served as chair of the HGSE Alumni Council. But in his heart, Johnson knew that the impact he wanted to have in higher education lay beyond fundraising. “Development wasn’t the pulpit I was going for,” he says, while acknowledging that his experience with such work taught him a lot about higher education.

Two years ago, Johnson began to think more about pursuing his doctorate – fully knowing this was necessary to make his dream of being a college president a reality.

When it came time to choose where to study, returning to HGSE was at the top of his list. “All along, I knew I wanted to be here,” Johnson says.

But, Johnson admits, he still checked out several schools before he committed to HGSE. During an open house for admitted students, Johnson recalls that Professor John Willett, whom he had never met during his master’s studies, stopped him to tell him how excited he was to meet him and how he enjoyed his admissions essay.  “I felt like I had come home,” Johnson says.

Since then, he hasn’t looked back. Now enrolled in an independent study, he is digging deeper into the work of HBCUs. In particular, his research is trying to identify the most salient challenges and opportunities facing these institutions today. To do this, Johnson has identified a select group of HBCU presidents, trustees, and researchers with whom to speak about their experience with and aspirations for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. With support and guidance from Professor Judy McLaughlin and Senior Lecturer Jim Honan, faculty in the Higher Education Program at HGSE, Johnson is confident that the information he gathers from his interviews will shed light on how he can make a distinct, positive contribution to an educational community that he cherishes.

“Ultimately, my long-term goal is to focus on pursuing roles that I find fulfilling and allow me to serve my community,” he says.