PROFILE OF A PROF: Barbara Johnson
Assistant Professor Barbara Johnson
Emeli Warren, copy-editor and staff writer | English major
Being a teacher was never a goal for Professor Barbara Johnson, nonetheless in the social work department at APU. In fact, even until the end of her undergraduate career, she had never even heard of a social worker.
“I was a graphic design major in my sixth year of my seven years of undergrad at Cal State LA and took one social work class. It intrigued me so I began to pursue it,” said Johnson. You read that right—seven years of undergraduate work. “For me, I working full time to pay for my degree. It made sense to take my time doing both.”
Upon graduating in 1984 she decided to fuse her graphic design and social work skills while working at the McKinley Home for Boys, using art as a therapeutic outlet for the boys living at the home. Shortly after completing her work there, she moved to the Hamburger Home for Girls, a non-profit shelter for sexually abused girls between the ages of 14-18.
Now almost 30 years later, she finds herself as an assistant professor in the department of social work. Johnson said, “[APU] kept asking me if I would teach and I kept refusing. I finally gave in and here I am, ten years later—and I love it.” Even now she wouldn’t trade her work with the students for anything.
Professor Johnson is known for her exciting lectures and interesting discussions. “You have to keep it interesting,” said Johnson. “After years of teaching, you get stale. You have to remind yourself that these students are hearing the material for the first time, even if you’ve taught it a hundred times before.”
In fact, she is currently conducting a new research study based on the practice skills of APU social work students. While in their junior year, students of the practice one class participate in a mock assessment. The department hires an actor who pretends to have various problems that the students might encounter in their field—from narcissism to a victim of domestic violence to someone with a mental illness—and the students are to assess the patient’s problems.
The assessment is performed in a room with a two-way mirror so Professor Johnson and Dr. Mary Rawlings, the department chair, can watch and critique the student’s abilities. Afterward, the student goes through a series of professor and self-critiques. This helps the department get a strong sense of the students practice skills to better place them in various locations for their yearlong internship to follow.
In the end, Professor Johnson loves her job in social work, but still clings to her graphic design roots. “I still try to use my artistic talents,” said Johnson. “Although I feel a bit behind—back then we were literally cutting and pasting. Now there’s so much technology to it.” You can view her art on display via photo collages throughout the halls of the social work department located in the Wynn building—she personally designed and created each and every one.
Q and A
If you could go back and visit your college self, what advice would you give?
“Relax! It all works out. I tell students all the time that they are going to miss out on things while they’re busy worrying.”
What is currently on your bookshelf?
“A diary of May Dodd called ‘A Thousand White Women’ by Jim Fergus. It’s set in the mid 1800’s and is about pioneer women that are sent to intermarry with Cheyenne Indians. It’s fascinating.”
What keeps you coming back to the classroom?
“I love the students. I was adjunct for six and a half years and have now been full time for three—making nearly ten years here! [Teaching] is part sermon and part lecture. The quality of the students here makes all the difference. I’ve made some valuable relationships that I don’t think I would find anywhere else.”
If you were a current APU student, whose class would you want to take?
“There’s a professor in the Psychology department—Stephen Lambert—who I’ve always heard such good things about. I think he would be really interesting to take a class from. I would also want to take classes in the Biblical studies department and there’s a new HBSE professor who I think is doing a great job.”
(Photo by Emeli Warren)