The associate professor of mathematics arrived at ASU in the fall of 1973 after being recruited by Dr. Cass L. Archer, then head of the Mathematics Department. Increasing diversity in the ASU student body led to a search for minority faculty, and Johnson was hired while still finishing up his master’s degree in mathematics at Texas Tech University.
“The students of color attending Angelo State were wanting to see someone like themselves as professors,” Johnson said. “It was a case of being in the right place at the right time for me.”
But the Fort Worth native’s path to higher education was not easy. He decided early on that he would go to college, and his mother encouraged him to work hard in school because he would need scholarships to further his education. He ended up earning a scholarship to what was then North Texas State University in Denton, but showed up with little else.
“I only had $10,” Johnson recalled, “and this trunk. I remember the cab driver helped me take the trunk into the dorm and he charged me $6, so all I had left was $4. I didn’t eat for two days because I still hadn’t paid for staying in the dorm.”
“You don’t have to do things perfectly, and there isn’t just one way to solve a problem.”
The problem was that Johnson had not yet received his scholarship money, but when his roommates discovered he was skipping meals, they quickly explained that he was on a waiting list and did not have to worry about paying until the scholarship funding came through. When he finally received his funding, he remembers writing a check for $180.
“I had never written a check for that considerable amount of money,” he said.
And, the cost weighed heavily on him. He knew his mother, a widow, could not afford his college expenses, so he decided to withdraw and get a job. His mother, however, would not have it. She convinced him that he could attend school back home in Fort Worth, so he enrolled at Texas Wesleyan College and earned his mathematics bachelor’s degree in 1971. He followed that with his master’s degree at Texas Tech and a job at ASU – not bad for a guy who started college with only $10 in his pocket.
“You will have challenges and all that,” Johnson said, “but the obstacles you are able to go over just make you a very strong person. You learn how to deal with those things and you are able to be successful.”
He has used that same positive attitude to teach math to several generations of ASU students.
“You don’t have to do things perfectly, and there isn’t just one way to solve a problem,” Johnson said. “You have to have flexibility, and sometimes you have to approach it a different way to see the problem. You have to go in these gradual steps, show your work and do the required practicing if you wish to pass the test.”
The life test that Johnson started with just $10 continues 41 years later at ASU.
“This is where the Lord wanted me to be,” he said. “There are events that occur that lead us to where we are, and my main job was to always become a teacher. I just had that as part of my plan. My main focus was to teach at the college level, but that was decided for me because of the chain of events.”