On Saturday, December 7, Tammy Johnson ʼ19, senior administrative assistant in Online Learning, will become the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, edging out her oldest son, who graduates from Murray State University in May, and her daughter, a sophomore at USI. “I’ve shown them that it can be done—maybe not when it’s expected to be done—but you can always do it if you want to,” she says.
Johnson got married right after high school and traveled with her husband for his job for years. When they eventually moved back to the Evansville area, she started taking classes at Ivy Tech to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). But life quickly steered her toward an even more important role—mom. “I always wanted to be a nurse, but once I had the kids, I never thought it would happen, that I’d get a degree,” she recalls.
As her kids got older, though, she decided to try again, re-enrolling at Ivy Tech where she was then working in 2010. “It was not something where I said, ‘I’m going to work toward my bachelor’s.’ I just said, ‘I’m going to take some classes.’ And that’s how it all started. It was not something I ever really thought about—just a class here, a class here,” she says. Those classes slowly added up as Johnson transitioned to a job in the Registrar’s Office at USI. By 2016, she’d earned her associate degree in social science and realized a bachelor’s degree was possible, too. “Seeing other people learning makes you want to learn, and the other people in my office had degrees … so that kind of motivated me.”
Online classes have allowed Johnson to continue working full-time at USI, while picking up additional hours at a part-time job and still being there for her family. “I’ve done homework with my daughter. She’ll read over my stuff and she gives me pointers. We’ll be at home studying together, doing homework together. They are very supportive,” she says. So are her co-workers and professors. “I’d never written a research paper. I didn’t know how to do citations, so they’ve been helping me with that. They’ve helped me with figuring out research sources, and I’ve used the Online Writing Lab. I get responses to emails on the weekend. I’ve had a really good experience with professors here.”
Twenty-six years after enrolling in her first college course, Johnson is excited, appreciative and above all—proud—to add a bachelor’s degree in professional studies, with honors, and a minor in psychology, to her resume. The process has made her more confident, and she’s looking forward to using her degree to help the Office of Online Learning accomplish its goals, just as she accomplished hers. “Just because things don’t always work out the way you had imagined them doesn’t mean that they can’t work out,” she says. “Sometimes it just takes a different path and a longer path.”
Photo Credit: USI Photography and Multimedia
Tammy Johnson poses in her cap and gown