Retiring Vice President for Student Affairs Reflects on Distinguished 40-Year Career
A devoted member of the University of New Haven community for four decades, Rebecca Johnson, M.A., has touched the lives of countless students in her many roles at the University, and she looks forward to continuing to pursue her passion for learning in her richly deserved retirement.
July 27, 2020
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing & Communications
Soon after Rebecca "Becky" Johnson, M.A., joined the University of New Haven community in 1980 as the director of the student center, and began building a residential life program in 1983 from the ground up. She has seen that program, and, indeed, the University, transform during her 40-year career.
Creating a residential life program included the purchase of three privately owned apartment buildings adjacent to campus: Olympic Heights, Helen Ann, and Parc Vendome, now Winchester, Dunham, and Sheffield Halls, respectively. They were then renovated, and Johnson and her colleagues hired and trained new staff members and developed resident student policies and co-curricular programming opportunities.
"We grew from 180 to 1200 beds while I was directly responsible for the Office of Residential Life, and we now have more than double that number of students living in the residence halls," she said. "The growth of our student body has enabled us to develop a vibrant and diverse campus community. We have always put our students first, and that has not changed. It has only grown stronger."
'The most rewarding aspect ... is watching students grow'
After four decades at the University, Johnson is retiring and reflecting on a distinguished career in which she has touched the lives of countless students. After being promoted to director of residential life and then to associate dean of students, she began supervising several departments in Student Affairs along with the Office of Residential Life. She was named dean of students in 2003, associate vice president in 2009, and vice president in 2016.
Johnson has found her involvement with students to be very gratifying. When holding hearings with students as a student conduct officer, she focused on education, and she enjoyed helping students overcome their challenges while helping them to learn and grow.
"The most rewarding aspect of working in higher education is watching students grow academically and personally as they develop important skills and competencies during their time at the University," she said. "I remember one student at SOAR who was in tears when her mother left. I connected her that morning with someone in her major and then watched her grow into a confident student leader by the time she graduated. That makes me smile."
'Set high goals for yourself'
Johnson has seen the field of higher education grow and evolve since she was an undergraduate at Skidmore College in the late 1960s. She credits her parents with instilling in her and her siblings a love of learning and a passion for knowledge. She later went on to earn a master's degree in college student personnel administration from Michigan State University. She has spent the majority of her career in higher education, something that, she says, has enabled her to help cultivate a sense of community at the University.
"When asked to explain my job in residential life, I have often said it is like being the mayor of a small town," she explains. "We are a community that has all of the same issues that exist in larger communities. We have the unique opportunity as an educational institution to respond in ways that can make a difference in the lives of our students."
In retirement, Johnson is looking forward to spending time with her husband, two sons, and three grandchildren. She also plans to spend time gardening and reading, along with continuing to pursue her love of learning. She is especially interested in studying other cultures, and, when it is safe to do so, she looks forward to traveling internationally.
Johnson has many fond memories of her time connecting with students and staff members and she is grateful for the support and dedication of her colleagues. She encourages students to take advantage of everything the University has to offer – including study abroad opportunities, involvement in student organizations, and developing relationships with faculty, staff, and other students.
"Be an engaged and respectful community member and set high goals for yourself," she said. "The University is a place that allows you to think outside the box and try new things. I, personally, have always felt supported when bringing new ideas and programs to the table for discussion and approval. For that I am grateful."