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On The Job With Aaron Johnson

The Darton State College Assistant Professor of Economics dreams of being a baseball beat writer with the St. Louis Cardinals.

If a film were made about “The Secret Life of Aaron Johnson,” he would be a baseball beat writer covering his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. In real life, however, Johnson is Assistant Professor of Economics at Darton State College. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

If a film were made about “The Secret Life of Aaron Johnson,” he would be a baseball beat writer covering his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. In real life, however, Johnson is Assistant Professor of Economics at Darton State College. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — If a film were made about “The Secret Life of Aaron Johnson,” he would be a baseball beat writer covering his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

In real life, however, Johnson is the Assistant Professor of Economics at Darton State College. A graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis where he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and finance, Johnson is Darton’s economics spokesperson.

In addition to his teaching role, he often contributes to television, newspapers, and community groups as a resource to local, regional, and national economic trends.

Johnson currently serves on three local boards — the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business Resource Commission, and Girls Inc. He is also a past board member of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission, where he previously served as co-chairman of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission’s Retention subcommittee.

In 2009, he was recognized as one of the Top 40 under 40 in Southwest Georgia and is also a 2012 alumnus of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Training and Leadership Bootcamp.

Q. If you were fresh out of school, what would you first do in searching for a job?

A: First, I would develop a network within my profession. That would mean joining a student club that is tied to my major and then connect with alumni. I would not be shy in reaching out to friends and family to land contacts for jobs. What people must realize is that employers are sifting through countless resumes with individuals that have similar qualifications and skills. In order to distinguish between candidates, they often rely on their network, so I would want to make sure that I am part of that network.

Q. What was your first job?

A: My first job was as an usher at the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis, also known as The MUNY. I spent many nights directing customers to their seats and watching plays such as “Cats” and “Annie” at the largest outdoor musical theatre in the country.

Q. What was the first thing you bought after you got your first paycheck?

A: Honestly, I don’t remember. Reflecting back, I would not be surprised if it was used to purchase a steakburger, fries, and milk shake at the nearby Steak and Shake establishment.

Q. Who was your role model or mentor in your current job?

A: I would have to say that it is Harvard economist Ronald Fryer. I am impressed with his innovative research techniques and superior writing skills where his groundbreaking work is causing people to look at education and labor markets in a different light. His work in explaining social inequities in education and the workplace are exemplary.

Q. How has the recession affected education budgets, specifically within Darton?

A: Fortunately, we have continued an upward trend in enrollment; therefore, we have been able to weather some of the financial storms that other institutions are currently dealing with.

Q. If you could turn back the clock on one aspect of technology (email, internet, cell phones, etc.) what would it be and why?

A: It would be the Kindle. While I understand the convenience, there’s something to be said about turning the pages and cuddling up with a good book.

Q. I am up and going by …?

A: By 6:30 a.m. I try to take that time to meditate on scripture each day and approach each workday as an opportunity to reach and motivate a student to go beyond what they thought was possible.

Q. Favorite hobby or activity outside of work?

A: Tennis is definitely my favorite hobby outside of work. Although I need to make more time for it, it is the form of exercise that I enjoy the most. The movement and strategy involved is very satisfying. Particularly, singles tennis, which is my favorite, allows me to realize that my actions alone will determine my success or failure.

Q. If you could take back one decision in your career, what would it be?

A: While I believe that all things happen for a reason, I would have preferred entering the field of academia earlier. Although I am thankful for my professional experience in finance and telecommunications, teaching was what I was destined to do. However, my business experience allows me to offer a real world perspective to the classroom.

Q. What’s the best thing about your job?

A: Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student come back and share their career success with me. Seeing our students mature, graduate and prosper is what makes teaching so worthwhile.

Q. What’s the worst thing about your job?

A: It would definitely be the day we have to send out final grades and recognizing that my efforts were not enough in helping every student reach their academic potential.

Q. The most beneficial course you took in school?

A: It would have to be my Introduction to Econometrics course at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Through developing economic models, my eyes were opened on how we can use statistical analysis to explain the world around us.

Q. What would be your dream job?

A: My dream job would be a reporter covering the St. Louis Cardinals. While I’m sure the travel would not be conducive to raising a family, it would be very rewarding to converse and interact with highly accomplished players and managers. While I would obviously cover their athletic exploits and strategy employed on the field, I would also inquire about their psychological and emotional approach in enduring the physical grind of a 162-game season.

Q. Finish this: “On the first anniversary of my retirement” I see myself …

A: Celebrating with my beautiful wife, Victoria, off the coast of New Zealand, reflecting on our wonderful life together.

Q. What is the one trait an educational leader cannot be without?

A: Patience is the one virtue that you cannot be without. We would like to wave a magic wand and immediately transform a classroom into a culture of high achievement and success. However, it takes patience and a humble spirit to develop a well-rounded curriculum that addresses the varied learning styles of our students. We also must remember the times when we struggled with a concept or idea. Therefore, we must not get frustrated when students are not picking up the concept as quickly as we want.

Q. What do you see as Southwest Georgia’s biggest education challenge?

A: It is counteracting the pressure of scarce state funding, which is needed to address the myriad of issues that affect educational outcomes in our region today. While certainly our area is not alone with the socioeconomic problems that afflict areas across the U.S., it still requires a committed, innovative approach that will allow us to do more with less resources. Our region is hampered by the inequities in educational tools and resources that put us at a disadvantage with school districts in more affluent areas. However, we must recognize that everyone does have an opportunity to receive a free education and families must take the initiative to invest in low-cost supplemental educational materials so that their children can maximize their educational outcomes. We also must realize that school officials cannot solve the problem alone and collaboration between parents and community members is vital for us to meet the great potential present within all of our children.

Q. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in education over the past several years?

A: Online learning has been the biggest change and has been very helpful in allowing working adults to achieve a college education. Possessing a college degree has never been more important and with an online platform, many families do not have to choose between work and school. Having said that, I do caution our online students to be honest about the difficulty in managing work, family and school. I have noticed that students have taken on too much, so it might be helpful to take on a lighter load.

Q. What was the best vacation you ever took?

A: It would definitely be my honeymoon with Victoria where we flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then took a cruise across the Southern Caribbean. During that time, we experienced scuba diving in the clear blue waters of Barbados, horseback riding on the beautiful beaches of St. Thomas and taking hikes up the breath-taking rain forests of Dominica.

Q. Any parting words of wisdom?

A: Always stay positive and be encouraged. Challenges and obstacles cannot be avoided, but we do have a choice on how we approach those hard times. Take those difficult times as opportunities to strengthen your character. Recognize when you do overcome them that you will better appreciate the good times in your life.