Haskell Business Administrator senior Brian Johnson discusses his story from college dropout to becoming a leader at the university.
by Brian Johnson
Some people say “things happen for a reason” when something significant happens. Sometimes those reasons are because you are dumb or stupid! I came to Haskell as a non-traditional student in the fall of 2011; I originally started college at Arizona State University (ASU) straight out of high school but because I goofed off I did not graduate from there, I ended up dropping out after three semesters. This May I am going to be finally graduating with my bachelor’s degree in business administration but the real story here is not about my graduation but rather about the journey that I took to get to this point. As my time at Haskell quickly comes to an end, I cannot help but reflect about the moments and people that went into making this journey possible.
After I dropped out of ASU I needed to make ends meet so I went to work for JP Morgan Chase as a customer service representative and that is where I got my introduction to banking. Even though I was making a decent living, it always bothered me that I never finished my degree, it felt like a black eye to my self-worth. I eventually ended up at Wells Fargo where one of my managers encouraged me to return to school to finish my degree so I could have more career options and a higher earning potential. One day in 2010, as I sat in my cubicle staring at my computer screen as a customer hurled obscenities at me, I decided it was then or never. I had to finish my degree and I had to do it soon.
When I arrived at Haskell it seemed like a huge high school rather than a university because of how small it was. In contrast to Haskell, ASU has over 70,000 students and I remember my freshmen chemistry class had over 1,000 students in the lecture – can you imagine Haskell’s entire student body and all the staff in just one class? That glaring difference was probably the biggest factor that influenced my success at Haskell. I had the opportunity to speak up and participate in class discussions and let the instructors know I was present and ready to learn. I could ask questions without feeling like I was shouting at the referee at a basketball game. My instructors got to know me on a first name basis and encouraged my success on a personal level.
The first Haskell instructor I had who took an interest in my academic success was Ms. Nana Allison-Brewer who was my freshman math instructor; she was inquisitive about my short and long term goals and was genuinely interested in why I had chosen to attend Haskell. At ASU I never had an instructor take that kind of interest in me and it was at this point I knew I had made the right decision to finish my degree at Haskell. In her classes, Ms. Brewer challenged us to give 100 percent in everything we do, she always had words of encouragement, and she set high expectations for us. Ms. Brewer reminded us that we were at Haskell to prepare ourselves for the future and that a college education is meant to not only teach you academic knowledge but to also teach you real world problem solving skills. After I left her class I took her words to heart and to this day I still think of her classroom pep talks whenever I feel like a weight has been dropped on me.
It was not just Ms. Brewer who took a vested interest in my success, as the semesters passed I encountered more staff and faculty who also wanted me to succeed. Margaret at Curtis always greets students by name and makes a point to offer a few words of inspiration along with some nutrition. Al from facilities always offers a stoic nod as he zooms by on a gator on his way to yet another broken toilet. Althea from the mail room is quick to laugh and chitchat while she makes sure our letters and care packages from home get safely delivered. Ed, the Resident Assistant from Winona, is known to cry when his residents graduate. And finally; the faculty in the School of Business work tirelessly to arrange interviews, write letters of recommendation, offer professional advice, expose us to post-undergraduate options, and last but not least, teach us the fundamentals of business.
In addition to the staff and faculty, my Haskell experience would not be complete with my friends. This past spring break my best friends and I went on a road trip to the southwest where we toured; the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque, and the surrounding reservations. My friends are the ones who I chose to be my family while I was away from home and they were the ones who kept me sane while I was trying to adjust to Kansas. During my freshman year I also befriended a man who wanted to start a fraternity on campus. While I was older than the stereotypical frat dude he convinced me to stick around. Three years later I can wholeheartedly say joining Phi Sigma Nu Fraternity was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Everyday my Brothers challenge me to; work on my leadership skills, develop myself as an individual, care for my community, be honest in all my dealings, heed the wisdom of my elders, and take pride in myself. I am now a lifelong member of nationwide network of; lawmakers, educators, lawyers, doctors, athletes, entrepreneurs, engineers, and tribal nation builders, including a former president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Nation.
So as I reminisce about my Haskell experience I cannot recount just the specifics such as my happiest or saddest moment or the hardest lesson I learned; those seem petty in comparison to the entire journey. When I made the decision to go back to school I had to quit a good paying job, sell my belongings, and leave behind my family and everything I had ever known. I came to Haskell jobless, homeless, and all alone but what I gained in my four years here more than made up for what I had to give up and I would definitely do it all over again. I hope my story inspires my fellow students, especially freshman, to stay in school so you can make your ancestors proud. Onward Haskell!