Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tamara Johnson has a longstanding interest in the nation of South Africa. She recently returned from the country after leading a group of UNC Charlotte students who participated in a program on sustainable farming in association with Stellenbosch University.

Johnson, research associate for academic planning and analysis in the Provost’s Office, helped guide this international learning initiative. She views this type of global experience as an extension of her role on campus – to highlight the work University faculty and students are doing related to community engagement.

“The easiest way to describe my position is that I conduct research and write about topics related to the University’s community engagement efforts and student success initiatives,” said Johnson. “And in conjunction with this work, I have the opportunity to plan and implement various initiatives in collaboration with faculty members across campus.”

While recent trips to South Africa have been to Cape Town, Johnson spent more than two years in the Limpopo Province as a volunteer with the Peace Corps after graduating from UNC Chapel Hill. She earned a bachelor’s degree in geography and international studies.

“I worked with primary school teachers to implement a new outcomes-based education model, which was a shift from the apartheid model,” said Johnson. “The new model focused more on critical thinking and problem solving.”

Being in this rural setting presented challenges and opportunities for the Charlotte native. “I learned to be more resourceful, flexible, adaptable and brave,” Johnson said. “I struggled through language mistakes, but I can say it was the best experience of my life from the standpoint of personal development.”

She would return to South Africa for her doctoral studies, using a Fulbright grant to study at the University of Cape Town as an affiliate with the Center for African Studies and the African Center for Cities. Her Ph.D., also from UNC Chapel Hill, is in geography.

Returning to Charlotte and being able to join the University have been rewarding experiences for Johnson. “UNC Charlotte is a dynamic and growing institution in a city that shares those qualities. To help prepare students, in some small way, to take their place in an increasing globalized world is incredible.”

Johnson joined the University in September 2011, initially with the Office of International Programs. During her tenure in the Provost’s Office, she has worked with students to promote voter education and helped organize a symposium related to hunger. She is working with faculty members on an event around housing for the spring. In addition, Johnson is a liaison to the N.C. Campus Compact.

“Our goal is to highlight our faculty and students and showcase their civic engagement efforts within the community in novel ways,” said Johnson. “We do this by bringing together community partners, faculty and students to have conversations around various topics, and we want to increasingly integrate civic engagement into the curriculum, so our students are more involved with local decision makers.”

Beyond campus, Johnson enjoys cycling, standup paddleboard and hiking with her three-pawed dog Layla. She’s trying to learn more about home repairs to tackle several “do-it-yourself” projects, too.