Quite a feat - Johnson inspires students, excels in all four GGC core values

Dr. C. Douglas Johnson of Georgia Gwinnett College has quite a shoe collection … 1,600 pairs at last count.

Dr. Douglas Johnson poses with pile of shoes

Dr. Douglas Johnson and some of the shoes that were collected for Soles4Souls. 

Dr. C. Douglas Johnson of Georgia Gwinnett College has quite a shoe collection … 1,600 pairs at last count.

As part of a service-learning project, Johnson and his students took on the challenge of collecting shoes for the non-profit organization, Soles4Souls.

Johnson became aware of the organization through the college’s fall semester Common Reading Initiative, in which the book, “The Blue Sweater,” recommended that shoes be collected to assist in the fight against poverty.  Soles4Souls collects new shoes to give relief to victims of abject suffering, and gently used shoes to support microbusiness efforts to eradicate poverty around the world.

“This program aligned well with my plans for a service-learning project in the Essentials of Leadership course,” said Johnson, an associate professor of management. He designed the project to enhance management skills, decision making, goal setting and team skills. Johnson divided his students into teams of five, each of which set goals and worked within the community and on campus to collect footwear. Students also had to write reports and make class presentations about their efforts.

“Given that there were five teams, I expected us to collect 500 pairs of shoes,” he said. However, Johnson was overwhelmed by the results.

Boxes, bags and cartons full of shoes poured in – everything from Nike sneakers to infant bunny slippers. It soon became apparent that the students would surpass their goals … by more than 1,000 pairs.

“This project completely exceeded my expectations and reaffirms my confidence in my students and the GGC community,” Johnson said. “It is a testament to how dedicated the GGC community is in helping the larger community. The students really stepped up and collected the majority of the shoes, but other faculty, staff and students joined in to make this a tremendous success.”

Johnson is considering driving the shoes to the Soles4Souls organization’s warehouse in Alabama since shipping costs for 1,400-plus pairs of shoes could be exorbitant.

“It will give me a great sense of closure and achievement to see the warehouse and know the shoes have reached Soles4Souls,” Johnson said. “While the project’s learning objectives were achieved, I think the students were most excited about helping others and collecting so many shoes in support of a great cause. Hopefully, as they become organizational and community leaders, they will ensure social responsibility and civic engagement are priorities.”

The students could have no better role model than Johnson himself.

“Dr. Doug,” as he is fondly known to his students, was honored during the college’s fall semester convocation as the first faculty member to receive all four faculty excellence awards.

Since 2009, Johnson has received awards recognizing excellence in scholarship and creative activities, student engagement, service and teaching. Award recipients are selected by a committee of faculty, staff and students.

“Dr. Johnson is one of the most active, vibrant, engaged and dedicated members of our faculty,” said Dr. Daniel J. Kaufman, GGC President. “He exemplifies all of the characteristics we seek from our teachers and his record demonstrates how deserving he is of these awards.”

“I am humbled and grateful for the recognition,” said Johnson. “Being born to a single mother who passed away of breast cancer before my fifth birthday and growing up on a rural farm where there was little emphasis placed on higher education, winning all four awards is proof positive that anything is possible if you believe, work hard, and demonstrate resilience, faith and determination.”

Johnson credits his wife and children for the sacrifices they’ve made which allow him to fully engage while at work. And he cites his family as the single most important aspect of his life, giving him the impetus to work hard, in part, to set an example for them that goals and dreams can be achieved through perseverance.

“Dr. Doug’s teaching style creates a comfortable and encouraging learning environment, said Shalaya Morissette, who along with fellow student Heather Interholzinger nominated Johnson for this year’s teaching award. “He is a highly dedicated professional who motivates his students to strive for excellence.”

“Dr. Doug has a passion for educating and an unwavering devotion to assist students in any way possible,” Interholzinger said. “When I think of the four ‘pillars’ of GGC, he always comes to mind.”

As a first-generation college student who earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, Johnson was impressed when researching employment at GGC and found that his personal values aligned well with the institution’s values. Now in his sixth year at GGC, he continues to be energized by his work and ability to connect with, and relate to, his students while impacting their lives.

“My teaching philosophy can be summed up in six words, ‘to know, to care, to act’ and I’m given the freedom to live that at GGC,” Johnson said.

Whether writing poetry, designing and executing empirical research, or creating an experiential exercise or service-learning project for his classes, Johnson tries to embody GGC’s core values in everything he does.

“I am thinking about these values and how they will impact the personal and/or professional development of those with whom I am interacting,” he said. “My personal life mission statement is ‘to enhance the personal, professional, and spiritual development of those with whom I come into contact, while striving for personal growth in those same life domains.’”

Johnson recently wrote a poem, “If She Could See Me Now,” in memory of his mother. He said he’s motivated to push himself and his students in a manner that would continually make her proud of the man and the professor he has become.

Based on GGC staff, faculty and student accolades – and a pile of 1,600 pairs of shoes – it’s safe to say she would be proud.

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