Dr. Kim Johnston
Making a difference through higher education and community engagement
I grew up in a small town in the Allegheny Mountains of west central Pennsylvania. My father was the principal of our high school and then superintendent of schools for our school district. Our family had lived in our town, Clearfield, for many generations and was well known in the community. They felt it was important that we serve as role models.
We were involved in service to our church and community, and my parents set their expectation by example. They taught Sunday school, coached various teams, led community celebrations, served as Cub Scout and Brownie leaders, served on Rotary and other service committees, and were truly involved leaders of the community. My brother and I were also involved in service activities, taking part in church rummage sales, teaching Sunday school, collecting for UNICEF, playing team sports, and participating in scouts and YMCA programs. I always wanted to make a difference. When my parents died, people waited for blocks to pay their respects. I was proud to hear stories from so many people about how they had been helped in some way by my parents. In short, I had great role models.
Tell us about your educational background and how you got started on your career path.
Upon graduation from Clearfield High School, I enrolled at Penn State University, University Park. I majored in pre-med biology, but after a year decided I really didn’t know what I wanted to be. But then, who does at 18? I was a psychology major for a time, but found I was really drawn back to the biological sciences. I began looking into careers that would give me the opportunity to apply my knowledge in both the biological and social sciences, and that is how I came upon nursing. After yet another change in major (which my father, who was paying for my education, warned would be the last!) I graduated with high distinction with a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Penn State University.
After a bit of time in practice, I was drawn back into education and I enrolled in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree at Penn State. There, I was drawn into teaching by two phenomenal mentors—Dr. Janet Henderson, undergraduate nursing dean, and Dr. Margaret Newman, graduate dean—who convinced me to work as a teaching assistant. As I was completing the MSN, I was offered a teaching position at Penn State and began my official work as a faculty member. I continued my higher education professorships and then administrative roles at Albright College and Kutztown University. I also completed post-master degree certification in nursing education and my doctorate in higher education administration at Widener University.
Can you share some of the highlights of your career?
As an educator, my greatest highlights have been when I see that I have made a difference and helped someone change his or her life through the education I helped to provide. The emails I still receive from students of years past, who write to say thanks for what they have learned that has allowed them to achieve, or the look on a student’s face when they have that “aha” moment of understanding about a concept they have struggled with—those are highlights.
As an administrator, having a vision and witnessing it come to fruition are highlights. Working for years to get approval to write a master’s degree program—and the feeling when the program is approved by the state board—these moments have been particularly special here at Methodist College. Other highlights include the college’s initial accreditation and regional accreditation of new programs; the enrollment and education of students in those new programs; increasing service to our local, national and international communities; the provision of education to all groups in our community; achieving growth in enrollment; and of course, the building of a new college campus. The day we move to the new campus will probably be one of the greatest highlights of my life!
Describe the new campus and the progress being made on the project.
Our new campus, located on about 13 acres at 5801 W. War Memorial Drive, will allow us to continue and double our growth. There is a 126,000-square-foot building, and on approximately 11 acres behind it, student housing will be built. There are five units planned, each housing up to 200 students. Each student unit or apartment will have one, two or four bedrooms, a kitchen and living area, and one or two bathrooms. The first unit will be ready for occupancy when the college is ready, which will be fall semester 2016.
The college building will have faculty, staff and administrative offices; two biology labs and one chemistry lab; 12 classrooms; a simulation center; a technology learning commons; a large community room; a computer lab and two testing centers; a student support area; a café; a fitness center; and a game room. Students will have access from the college via a walking path to Orange Prairie Road and the many amenities located in the area, including shopping, movies and restaurants within walking distance. Work is on schedule, and we will begin the fall semester of 2016 at our new campus.
Please reflect upon your major accomplishments over the last year.
I have to say my greatest accomplishment of 2015 was the acquisition of the new campus for our college and the beginning of the building—but it certainly won’t match the feeling of moving to the new campus next summer. Other accomplishments leading up to this include the continued accreditation of the college and the nursing program; the addition of general education courses and additional nursing courses, health science courses and our first graduate program; as well as the great student growth we have experienced. And we have just begun—there is so much more to watch for from Methodist College!
Personally and professionally, I am proud of how community-focused our college is. In addition to the work of our students in the community, we are creating a student requirement for community engagement, which includes volunteerism and service learning. We are also developing certificate programs in healthcare to provide an entry into higher education and career development for those who may not feel that a college education is within their reach.
What are the greatest challenges you have faced in this position? Greatest accomplishments?
My greatest challenge is being patient when I have a vision I want to push through and achieve with immediacy. I have learned that not everyone sees things as I do, and to be successful, I must slow my planning, keep my eye on the prize and take time to invest others in that vision.
I believe my greatest accomplishment has been to take Methodist College from about 120 students and a single program located on four floors in one building to well over 600 students and a soon-to-be new campus!
We now have a complete general education program, three options for a Bachelor of Science in nursing, a Master of Science in nursing program, a Bachelor of Science in health science degree program with concentrations in behavioral health and healthcare management, a gerontology certification program, a proposed Bachelor of Science in social work, and proposed continuing education programs for certified nursing assistants and medical office assistants.
I am also very proud that we have moved from less than 30 employees to approximately 110. I am so pleased that we are able to provide jobs for so many families in our community.
How have you been able to contribute to the community through your role at Methodist College?
My role as president has afforded me the opportunity to serve some of Peoria’s strongest organizations, such as the CEO Council, and on various boards, such as that of Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the Greater Peoria YMCA, as well as various UnityPoint – Methodist boards and groups. It allows me to be active with both state and federal organizations focused on higher education so I can serve as an advocate for our students and colleges. I have also had the opportunity to serve as a member and board member of Peoria North Rotary and their many service activities.
Most importantly, I am able to help direct the community involvement of our employees and students. Our employees are urged to serve the community, and we support community endeavors both financially and through the service of our students. Our college is in the process of developing a community engagement graduation requirement which will be met through service learning or volunteerism. Presently, our students serve the community through travel learning courses, service learning courses and volunteerism. When the tornado struck Washington two years ago, they were present with their faculty instructor early Monday morning assisting the Red Cross, and stayed for days following. This is just one example of who we are at Methodist College.
What is your secret to maintaining a balance between your work and personal life?
I believe it is necessary to leave work totally behind when at home. I try to set aside my home time to be about home and family and not work. On weekends when I am able, I do things with my family and do not think of work until Monday morning. Of course, this requires me to stay at work later at night to get things finished so I don’t have to take them home! I also love music and use this as an escape from daily stressors.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
The one thing that cannot be taken away from you is your education.
In your opinion, what is the greatest struggle working women face today?
I believe working women still struggle against the stereotype that they must do it all. Men still are not expected to take on equal parental roles; the rearing of children is still looked at as primarily the duty of the mother. Because of this, professional women are often left behind in their careers. Many young professional women feel they must put off having children to build their careers, which is blatantly unfair. Our society has to expect more from fathers and support them to be involved parents. Paternity leave should be an option for all men, and women should not lose valuable career growth time because they have a child. Sadly, nothing has changed from when I was a young mother and a provost told me if I wanted to become a college president, I needed to not have any more children and focus on my career. I wonder if he would have told a man the same thing. iBi