FACES: Getting involved: Throughout Peter Johnson's career in newspapers and with UND, volunteer work has played a major role in his life
Peter Johnson wears with honor his affiliation with UND. From the "Proud UND" logo pinned on the front of Johnson's sports coat to the enthusiastic way he talks about what the university has to offer, the UND associate vice president for Universi...
Peter Johnson wears with honor his affiliation with UND.
From the "Proud UND" logo pinned on the front of Johnson's sports coat to the enthusiastic way he talks about what the university has to offer, the UND associate vice president for University Relations has obvious admiration for his employer.
For Johnson, who began his career with UND 23 years ago, his job is the ideal marriage of his interest in education and his belief in the importance of community service.
He credits his mother and father with instilling in him a respect for both. Johnson's parents took him and his two sisters and two brothers to many educational events and also encouraged them to do volunteer work.
His parents' message to his children was, "How can you be of service?" Johnson said.
"The University seemed like the logical union of those forces we grew up with," he said. In his job at UND Johnson heads up the office of University Relations, which is the public relations, communications and marketing arm of the university. Johnson oversees 13 employees for University Relations, UND's central media office.
Johnson, who earned a bachelors' degree in English from UND in 1981 and a secondary education degree in 1982, worked for about six years at weekly and daily newspapers in several North Dakota cities and was co-owner of the Chronicle, a Grand Forks weekly newspaper, before he accepted a job as UND media relations coordinator and associate director in 1988.
Throughout Johnson's career in newspapers and with UND, volunteer work, especially with organizations that serve and are advocates for people with developmental disabilities, has played an important role in his life. His youngest brother, Robert, who has Down syndrome, is the impetus for his involvement, Johnson said.
He watched his parents, who ignored the advice of Robert's baby doctor, and didn't institutionalize their son, advocate and start national organizations for children with developmental disabilities. As a teenager, Johnson wrote articles on development disabilities for a national publication his father founded and ran.
Over the years, Johnson has volunteered for Special Olympics, been a past president and board member of The Arc, Upper Valley, served as a board member of March of Dimes and now is president of the LISTEN Center in Grand Forks.
Johnson also is an active member of Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks and is a Grand Cities Children's Choir board member.
"Getting involved and being active in a variety of nonprofit organizations... is very much a part of who I am," Johnson said.
UND work, involvement
He sees his work at UND, where he has volunteered with student organizations, in addition to his job as associate vice president of University Relations, as another aspect of community service. Johnson believes the university has tremendous opportunities to offer, and his job is to let people know about them.
"Nobody's got an aerospace program like we do," Johnson said. "No one is graduating people in unmanned aerial vehicles, but we are." Meanwhile, the UND medical school is doing important brain research and other UND professors are renowned experts in their fields, he said.
One of the challenges of Johnson's job is to convince North Dakotans, who tend to be self-deprecating, of the greatness of the university. His father, a brother and two sisters are among the many students who have benefitted from the education that UND offers, Johnson said.
"In the family I grew up in, there are 11 degrees from UND." Meanwhile, his oldest son attended UND and his oldest daughter is a current student.
After spending more than half of his life on the UND campus, first as a student and now as an employee, Johnson remains a strong advocate of university life.
"I love the university environment. I absolutely love it. This has been a great place to work.., so many opportunities to learn. If you're open to learning, you can learn so much here."
Reach Bailey at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org .