William Johnson ’16 was recently named Director of Intercultural Student Engagement at the University of Southern Maine. In his new role, Johnson is dedicated to supporting students and encouraging them to find their own voice throughout their undergraduate journey. This commitment has been a common thread in Johnson’s career in higher education, where he has held positions in student life at Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of New England. Yet, his dedication to helping students comes from lessons learned during his own undergraduate experience.
“While I was at Chestnut Hill College I developed my own personal voice, and by the time I graduated, I felt like I could use it to do anything in the world,” said Johnson. “In my work, I try to create a similar environment for my students and find ways to make them feel the same as I did when they graduate.”
Johnson transferred to Chestnut Hill College for his sophomore year after attending an HBCU in Maryland. Following his sister’s footsteps, he attended the University without much thought, but he always had a feeling that he belonged somewhere else. As a music major and an active member in the choir group, Johnson first saw Chestnut Hill College on his way to a performance at a local church in Philadelphia. There, he met CHC students and faculty, who shared stories of their global and diverse classes, student life, and how they balanced their love for music with their majors.
“I knew that by the time I graduated I wanted to be a more well-rounded individual and everything I heard about Chestnut Hill College provided me the space and resources to do so,” Johnson said.
Shortly after the performance, he applied and was accepted with a new major: psychology.
“Logistically, the transition to Chestnut Hill was seamless for me. I met with the chair of the psychology department and my academic advisor and we created a plan for me to graduate on time,” said Johnson.
In transferring, however, Johnson had to commute to campus. The trip, which consisted of two trains and one bus, made his first semester a challenge, especially with being social on campus, but Johnson was encouraged by the number of student groups on campus.
“There always seemed to be activity and people doing something,” said Johnson. “It almost felt like there was a group for every interest and for every student.”
In addition to his student job, Johnson joined several student groups that were specific to his passion for theatre and music. It was through his participation in CHC’s theatre production club, Mask and Foil, that he was recommended for a resident assistant (RA) position, which would provide him with on-campus housing.
The opportunity served as a catalyst for Johnson, who went on to serve as a student ambassador for admissions and as vice president for student affairs for the Student Government Association. The leadership roles provided Johnson with the unique opportunity to connect with current and incoming students on campus and to be invested in their time at CHC. The experience led to his creation of the Commuter Assistance program, which Johnson describes as a “RA program for commuter students” that created a network of support for students who traveled to campus. The program still exists today.
“I was constantly surrounded by people who inspired me, but who also pushed me and motivated me to do more,” said Johnson. “I found my voice at Chestnut Hill, and even more importantly, I found that my voice matters and can make a difference.”
Now, with his work in higher education, Johnson aims to find ways for students to feel like they belong and to share their voice so that their time as an undergraduate is successful.
“The one piece of advice that I share with students is that this experience is yours and you can make it want you want it to be,” said Johnson. “Be intentional with your involvement on campus. Get involved with groups and topics that you are passionate about. If it isn’t there, create it and make it available to others. Don’t underestimate the power of your own experiences, your voice, and what you can do with it.”