CSU’s Freshman Convocation to Feature Successful Grad

COLUMBUS, Ga. - A Columbus State University alumnus and former staffer will return to campus Sunday, Aug. 19 as keynote speaker for CSU’s third annual Freshman Convocation, an event that has quickly become a CSU tradition to welcome new students into the college environment.

MaryMary Hill Johnson, now a full-time doctoral student at the University of Georgia, said she hopes to encourage incoming students to think about how they can develop on a personal level during their time at CSU.

'A lot of times as a freshman, especially if Columbus is your home, you have a tendency to just go to class, do your own thing and get off campus,' said Johnson, a 2003 biology graduate who later held two staff positions. 'They need to see how CSU can be a family for them where they can build relationships and think more about what they want to do with their future and how they want to grow as a person.'

Freshman Convocation is a 'rite of passage' designed to set the tone for the college careers of incoming freshmen. CSU faculty and administrators use the occasion to formally welcome freshmen and to convey the significance of educational endeavor and the university's commitment to support students in achieving their goals.

Family members of incoming students are also welcome at the 4 p.m. event in Fine Arts Hall. A reception follows at 5 p.m. in nearby Davidson Student Center.

Johnson, 26, now pursuing a Ph.D. in forest resources with an emphasis in wildlife ecology at the University of Georgia, said she 'didn't know who I was' when she enrolled at Columbus State in 1999. But, by graduation, she had developed invaluable insight into herself and 'knew what I wanted to contribute to the world.'

Johnson, who grew up in nearby Marion County, credits much of her transformation to her involvement in CSU's Servant Leadership and Honors programs, plus an 'incredible biology department,' where she flourished academically.

Success at Tri-County High School in Buena Vista made her a finalist for scholarships elsewhere, but a medical issue during her senior year caused her to consider staying closer to home.

“What really pushed me to CSU, what sealed the deal' was the recruiting brochure she got about the then-new Servant Leadership Program that CSU was starting with the help of the Pastoral Institute. 'I knew that was a program I wanted to be part of,' she recalls.

Less than six years later, having soaked up so many experiences as a student, she was hired by CSU as a coordinator in the Servant Leadership Program and taught more than a half-dozen classes. She also taught during her first post-graduation job, as an outreach coordinator at CSU's Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center.

And teaching is what she hopes to eventually do someday, maybe even at a 'CSU-size university where professors know your name.'

For now, though, Johnson is focused on completing the course requirements for a Ph.D. in forest resources at UGA. Her husband, Brian Johnson, a 2005 English literature graduate of CSU, is working as a coordinator at Georgia's bookstore.

They and their dachshund terrier Bella will remain in Athens as she begins the final three years of her dissertation research on the genetic structure of red-cockaded woodpecker populations in the Southeast.

She's been grateful for the lessons she learned at CSU, especially as an Honors Program student, where she was taught that she had to push herself to the point where she would even 'flirt with failure.'

'That taught me that things weren't going to be easy but that, with great difficulty came great growth,' she said. 'This has really paid off in graduate school. It has forced me to dig as deep as I could within myself.'