One of the newer members of the State Board of Higher Education may also be the youngest, but that doesn’t mean he’s lacking in experience.
Brett Johnson was appointed earlier this year as the SBHE’s student representative. Unlike the faculty and staff advisors on the Board, Johnson is a voting member. A current student on the pre-med track at the University of North Dakota, Johnson has always been fascinated by a model of democratic governance, and hopes to keep the tradition of having a clear student voice alive and well at the system-wide table.
Although a Fargo native, the 21-year-old UND senior said that after graduating from Shanley High School, he knew that UND would be the right fit for him. That was due to family and friends’ previous attendance at the school, as well as the options it held for him.
His academic goals took him down a dual path, going through both Biology and the Honors program. That path, effectively a double major, would be more than enough for any student, not to mention having to keep up with work responsibilities and social life. When not working toward keeping students’ voice in the decision-making process, he works as an orderly, and has volunteered with Walk to Defeat ALS, the North Dakota Special Olympics, and Sanford Children’s Hospital.
For Johnson, it was a drop in the bucket. He also found time to help renew the university’s chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and served as the vice president of the UND Student Government body. From there it was a natural path to seek involvement with the SBHE.
“I was a speech and debate kid all through high school and often I would focus on extemporaneous speaking,” Johnson said. “We’d look at newspaper articles and policy journals and come up with answers to what we should do about current events like health care. That kind of got me initially interested and I was able to engage in a few community activities in regards to political races. When I got to college I jumped into student government and the student association. That got me involved in higher education in North Dakota, outside of being a student.”
Some of the projects Johnson was involved with in student government included participation in redesign and planning of a new study space on UND’s campus, study of the old med school redesign and participating in the planning process for the library redesign. Involvement also took Johnson through other processes involving student engagement for research, academics and extra-curriculars.
Johnson felt that his experiences would make him a good student representative. He noted that he’d represented all the institutions already as the Academic Affairs Council representative. Positions like that taught him that it was all about students. When the opportunity to get involved at a higher level presented itself, he jumped at it.
For him, he was looking forward to discussions revolving around transitioning graduating high school students into their first successful year of college.
“It’s important to me to make sure incoming students are prepared and don’t lose extra time undergoing semesters of education because of remediation,” he said. “That could help drive down costs. I also think that maintaining college completion rates are also important to make sure we have people graduating in a timely manner, and make sure we don’t lose students.”
Johnson added that he was excited to get started. His first meeting, along with new Board members Nick Hacker, Mike Ness and Greg Stemen, came with an orientation and strategic planning at the end of June. His term officially began July 1.
“I’m looking forward to hearing from different individuals’ perspectives,” he concluded. “I view this as a tremendous learning experience, from the people I’ll work with on the Board, to the presidents of the colleges and universities, to the system officials, it will be really interesting to hear from them, and to learn what I can.”