- Nina Johnson
Program / Year
Master of Arts ’19
Student Affairs Administration
What led you to enroll at Lewis & Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling?
I wanted to gain the tools I needed to succeed in my future career in higher ed and experience a new environment different than my undergrad institution.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your chosen field of study?
My experiences in student affairs in undergrad were immensely influential on every aspect of my life. It’s where I learned public speaking, leadership, group facilitation, and how to trust others. While these areas of personal growth greatly shaped who I am today, the most powerful change I felt is when I saw other people develop those same skills. The feeling that you empowered someone to do something they couldn’t do before it unmatched. So I’m pursuing student affairs not just for me, but so that others can achieve what they thought impossible and then empower others to do the same.
What does social justice mean to you?
Social justice is about creating an equitable society, even though we are far from that. Some people may have more societal power or influence based on their careers or family status, but everyone can promote social justice in their life. Everyone can think critically about their life, their job, and their perspective - seeing how white supremacy and patriarchy have shaped the world around them. Social justice is about pointing out these unjust systems and actively seeking to dismantle them, while helping those who have been victimized by these structures.
How do you hope to apply your social justice education in your chosen career?
I will use a social justice mindset to shape my daily actions and my longterm plans. Whether it is fighting for more diverse representation on task forces, pushing for the decreased emphasis in admissions on SATs and biased ranking systems, or critically examining on how basic events and activities are excluding those who are consistently overlooked. As I progress through my career I hope to leverage my positions to fight for those in our society who need the resources college has to offer the most.
Where have you been working/interning as a student, and what does that work entail?
I have been working as a practicum student in the Office of Case Management. This involves organizing events on campus that promote mental health initiatives, researching off-campus health resources for students who need additional care, and communicating with students who are dealing with a specific issue that is affecting their academic success.
What is the most fun part of your program?
Being able to break out of class with my cohort has been a blast. There’s only 11 of us, so it was easy to get to know each other quickly and bond as group. Whether we’re talking about our weeks, what we did in class, or just something totally unrelated, it’s always a great time. I know that these will be people I can count on for the rest of my time at Lewis & Clark and beyond.
What is the hardest part of your program?
The hardest part of the program is having your world flipped upside down in the first month of the program. We basically learn how all of our rosy-outlooks on higher education are misguided and false, which is a bummer. But it is also the most interesting part of the program. I really appreciate the level of industry-critique and push back our professors provide. While it can sometimes be hard to walk out of class feeling optimistic, I am glad that I’m getting the hard facts now so that I can see how I can be a part of the solution from the very start of my career.
How would you describe your graduate school experience in one sentence?
Grad school has challenged all my preconceptions and tried to tear me down, and I feel stronger for it.
Who has been your most influential professor, and why?
Dolly Nguyen, our program’s new full-time faculty member, has been fantastic. I leave every one of her classes with multiple questions I could grapple with for weeks and months. She has challenged me to approach my chosen career field, my current education, and myself with an increasingly critical lens.
What is a unique perspective you bring to your cohort?
Going back to school has not only been about exploring a career field, but it has also been about exploring my identity. We regularly talk about college students and their identity development during that time and as I have been exploring my own gender identity, I have been able to bring that into cohort discussions. I didn’t expect it to be such a focal point of the past year, but the LC environment has motivated me to be more self-reflective. My genderqueer-identity has been a unique perspective in my cohort, albeit one I did not expect to be so salient this time last year.
What career will you be pursuing after graduation? Did you intend for this to be your career path when you enrolled?
I will be looking for jobs in student affairs on a college campus. Whether this will be a public or private, four-year or two-year, urban or rural - I don’t know. I’m not even sure what department I want to work in. But I do know that finding an institution that matches my values has become more important since enrolling at LC.
Describe an "ah-ha" or "right-turn" moment you have experienced here - a time when your perspective, opinion, outlook, or goals changed suddenly due to a specific experience.
My ah-ha moment was probably talking with my professor after they had graded some of my written work during the first semester. When they encouraged me to think about doctoral work, I was shocked. I had actively been opposed to that idea, but hearing that I might have the skills for it made me seriously reconsider my outlook. Critically examining higher ed had been compelling so far, but I had been so focused on my first practitioner job out of grad school. The idea of pursuing a PhD seemed absurd, but with the encouragement of someone I respected I began to seriously reconsider my career plans.
What do you think of Portland?
Portland has been very fun and relaxing. Coming from the Washington D.C. area, I was tired of the work-obsessed culture and over-indulgence. The laid-back, slower pace here in Portland is much more my scene. People here still complain that there is “traffic” which is crazy to me.