Meet a Husker: Don Johnson
21 Nov 2023
Don Johnson is an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Educational Administration. After becoming a first-generation college graduate with his bachelor’s degree, he went on to earn both a master’s and a doctorate in educational administration. Prior to joining the faculty at Nebraska last fall, Johnson was an administrator at Fort Calhoun Public Schools, serving 20 years as secondary school principal before spending 10 years as superintendent.
What made pursuing a college degree the right path for you?
My parents wanted me to have more opportunities than they had.
I had an intense desire to be a teacher and a coach, and college allowed me to do that.
What challenges did you face as a first-generation student?
I was from a family of 7 kids and one parent working, so money was an issue. Thankfully I qualified for some Pell grants and was able to work during college to pay for it.
I also had a pretty significant reading comprehension issue. The higher I progressed in my education the harder I had to work.
I had instructors at all levels of my education who were very critical and discouraged me from pursuing the degrees I eventually achieved.
What is something that was helpful to you in navigating being a first-generation student?
I had great people pour into me. They were people who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself.
I also got married to the love off my life (41 years now) and she had this overwhelming faith in my ability to succeed. She also challenged me to rise above my reading and writing issues to get my doctorate. It was the toughest thing I have had to do in my life. I got my degrees while being a full-time administrator and father of three.
An intense desire to succeed in what I believed to be beyond my capabilities.
What advice do you have for students who are either considering college as a first-generation student or those who are already at the university?
Don’t let anyone set a limit on what you are able to achieve.
If you have a reading disability, simply work harder than others to achieve.
Have a purpose: My purpose was to get to the highest position in the schools to make the biggest difference for kids. I achieved that by getting my doctorate and by becoming a superintendent of schools. Now I have taken it a step further by teaching future school administrators.
College of Education and Human Sciences