For Camille Johnson, the new dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, working at Cal Poly Pomona feels like a homecoming of sorts.
Johnson grew up not far from campus in the city of Claremont and recalls visiting the university on occasion. She also has a very special personal memory of campus — a first date with her husband, Menko Johnson.
“I do believe that my husband and I had our first date on campus to see the musical ‘Into the Woods,’” she said. “My father-in-law [Richard “Dick” Johnson] was a history professor here. So, one of our first dates was to see that show.”
Although the Claremont High School alumna relished her Southern California roots, she opted to go out of state for college to spread her wings, attending Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Minnesota.
“A teacher in high school went there and would always talk about it,” Johnson said. “He got six students from Claremont to give up sunny weather and go to Carleton College. That goes to show how much power teachers have.”
Johnson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, found that she enjoyed research. Thanks to a faculty mentor, she participated in a Summer Research Opportunity Program, a program designated for students who are members of underrepresented groups, in Utah during her junior year.
That early exposure and her subsequent experience with research in her career impressed upon her how important a professor’s scholarship is in relation to student success. The teacher-scholar model is one that she wholeheartedly supports.
“As teachers, our goal is to ignite and feed the curiosity of our students,” Johnson said. “Research, scholarship, and creativity activities are how we maintain our own curiosity – curiosity that is contagious.”
After graduation, she taught 7th grade language arts for two years in Seattle through the Teach for America program, before opting to pursue graduate studies. She returned home, earning a master’s degree in applied psychology at Claremont Graduate University.
After earning her master’s degree, Johnson pursued a Ph.D. in psychology from The Ohio State University, specializing in social psychology, which is the study of human behavior and thoughts in different social contexts. Johnson knew she wanted to teach, but also enjoyed the scientific aspects related to research.
“I liked the teaching and the mentoring aspect, and I also liked the idea of finding out new things and figuring out how to change environments,” she said.
Johnson also completed a post-doctoral program at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which involved running a behavioral research lab.
Through her research, Johnson has examined a range of topics from interracial interactions to first-generation college student performance to analyses of women’s representation in the social sciences. She also has taken on various leadership roles in professional organizations, serving as the elected fellow of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Johnson has also worked to support women in higher education as the state chair of the ACE Women’s Network – Northern California.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jennifer Brown lauded Johnson for her commitment to higher education and dedication to students, faculty and staff.
“Dr. Johnson is an accomplished researcher, thought leader and scholar who comes to Cal Poly Pomona with a vast amount of leadership experience and an abiding commitment to the success of students, faculty and staff,” Brown said. “I have no doubt that the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences will flourish and thrive under her leadership.”
She also has both professional and personal ties to the CSU and is among its biggest advocates.
Previously, she was at San Jose State for 16 years, serving as department chair, operations manager to the provost, and associate dean for research and faculty success in the university’s College of Social Sciences.
Johnson heard about the opening for a dean for CLASS from a friend and felt like it was a great opportunity to lead and be close to her family.
“I felt like this was the job I had been waiting for,” she said, adding that the college’s broad range of majors, from theatre and new dance to economics, appealed to her. Johnson also appreciates the questions the college is trying to answer related to social justice, she said.
“I realize that I am a steward of this college, a steward of all the great things already happening,” she said. “As we face challenges, my goal is to find sustainable solutions to support student success. That includes helping faculty and staff succeed.”
Besides spending the bulk of her professional career in the CSU, Johnson’s son, Mattheus, is a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo studying architectural engineering.
The CSU is a system always working towards student success, a mission Johnson believes in.
“What’s great about a CSU education is that it focuses on the student,” Johnson said. “People in the classroom are focused on undergraduate student learning to a high degree. The way Cal State University focuses on the undergraduate student experience is unique, and it is affordable. I am a huge advocate for the CSU.”