“I’m very excited about the new assignment,” Johnson said after her appointment by Provost Carol Glod.
The former associate dean of liberal arts and professor of English recently completed an American Council of Education Fellowship at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. and will bring the experiences and lessons gained there to her new position.
“I will continue working to make the Honors Program a dynamic and challenging academic program,” Johnson said.
As the interim general education director, she will work with the faculty to review the program “as part of our ongoing effort to provide academically rich experiences for our students.”
The Honors Program is a rigorous academic program for students who want to be challenged, Johnson said.
There are about 278 honors students for this coming year, including about 117 freshmen. Johnson wants to continue building a community among honors students focused on academics.
Honors students will be housed together — freshman in a living-learning community in Monican Hall, and upper classmen in the new North Residential Village (NRV), which opens in August.
The NRV will include an honors suite with a lounge for students as well as administrative offices.
Johnson’s work with the Honors Program will complement her efforts on Liberal Studies issues.
Liberal Studies is a broad-based set of requirements designed to expose students to various disciplines and intellectual questions, and to classes and professors they might not otherwise have on their schedules. The Liberal Studies courses are required in order “to expose students to different ways of thinking they may not be used to and to help them consider a major they might not have considered because they didn’t know about it,” Johnson said.
The ACE Fellowship in which Johnson took part prepares people for higher education administration, she said. Johnson has spent her entire career at Merrimack, so the fellowship offered a perspective on how other schools and administrations operate.
“I feel incredibly lucky and am very appreciative to have had the opportunity,” Johnson said.
The fellowship had three components.
First, Johnson was assigned to the provost’s office at UNH. “You watch and learn and do projects as agreed upon,” she said. For example, Johnson worked on capacity studies for the Provost’s Office at UNH, which look at the adjustments that must be made across campuses in case of increased enrollment.
Additionally, as part of the fellowship, Johnson attended three retreats with other fellows in her cohort to discuss issues and challenges in higher education, as well as professional literature and potential administrative scenarios.
During her fellowship, Johnson studied and researched the state of liberal arts in higher education.
“There is a sense that the liberal arts are under assault,” she said. “I read widely about the ways people are trying to invigorate liberal arts while keeping it the foundation of a college education. How do the liberal arts form the core of a student’s college experience in the 21st Century?”
A third component of the fellowship required Johnson and other fellows to travel nationally and internationally to observe various schools and academic institutions. She visited the New England Association of Schools and Colleges — Merrimack’s accrediting agency — and colleges and universities in New England, California, Scotland, England and Cuba.
Schools everywhere are coping with rising operational costs, increasing federal regulations, and enrollment challenges.
“It’s fascinating to see how people are addressing common challenges we have,” Johnson said. “Also, I was really interested in seeing how other places centralize liberal arts and how they integrate liberal arts throughout their curricula.”
She was especially interested to learn about different pedagogies at the polytechnic schools she visited. Schools like Cal Poly and WPI use project-based learning with students working together on interdisciplinary projects to integrate humanities with science and social sciences.
The curricula at those schools encouraged the different disciplines to discuss and work on big issues together.
“To get out and see the wider world of education was invaluable,” Johnson said. “It helps me see that we’re part of a larger landscape.”
Johnson was also recently notified that Rhys Matters: New Critical Perspectives, a collection of essays that she co-edited on Caribbean Modernist writer Jean Rhys, is a finalist for the Modernist Studies Association’s first biannual book award for an edition, anthology, or essay collection.
“My co-editor and I are honored to be among the finalists, and we’re very happy to help bring more attention to Rhys’s work and to the work of the mostly early-career scholars who published essays in our collection.”
All of the finalists will be recognized at the Modernist Studies Association’s annual conference, which will take place in Boston this November.