From USU to the CIA and back, Jeannie Johnson is more than just a professor

Gen Mattis visit – Copy

Jeannie Johnson lives a life guided by her passion of political science, an addiction to Dr. Pepper and a great love for our nation.

Johnson grew up in Ogden, Utah where her parents helped her develop her love for political science and the United States.

“My dad is a colonel in the military so that was always in our background. My mom is a really smart German. Both of my parents were educators and were very dedicated to education. So we focused a lot on education, adventure and national security,” Johnson said.

Johnson is a Utah State University graduate. After getting her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she stayed at USU for two years to teach before going to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Johnson was placed in multiple assignments throughout the world throughout her time at the CIA. Johnson had the chance to work as a part of the Balkan Task Force, live in Croatia with her husband and work in Washington DC on a variety of different projects.

Jeannie Johnson

Johnson has been able to work with many great mentors in developing strategic culture and the culture topography framework. Doing so has given her many great opportunities to work with some of the greatest experts in the field, one of which was Colin Gray.

“The cultural topography framework is a way for analysts to walk through and extract out part of a population’s culture that will impact their decisions we may be worried about. It has been really compelling and has delivered exactly what we hoped to do,” she said.

While working for the CIA, Johnson had a realization that she needed to come back to USU to help others realize and fulfill their dreams.

“The truth is, I am not cut out to live in a cubicle and do quiet research. I actually fell asleep in my cubicle one day,” she said. “I loved all of those experiences but my internal compass told me to come back to USU because that is where my contribution was going to be made.”

After returning to USU, Johnson proved her internal compass right by teaching students and continuing to make great contributions to the CIA through her research. Johnson still flies to DC about once a month to help educate others on strategic culture and the culture topography framework.

As a result of her experiences growing up and throughout her career, Johnson has one thing she hopes to impress on her students.

“I emphasize creating that culture of talking about what is going on in the world with your friends and your families. People shy away from serious conversation which blows my mind,” she said.

Jeannie Johnson

USU student Emily Orr has taken Johnson’s classes and admires her greatly.

“She is a strong intelligent woman who knows how to command attention. She is an influential leader in education, and I aspire to be her,” she said. “Jeannie is an incredible professor because she genuinely cares about her students and their ability perform. She takes the time to teach and mentor. She is clearly passionate about her job and doesn’t treat it like a burden.”

Orr appreciates the effort that Johnson puts in both inside and outside of the classroom to stay informed about the issues in today’s world.

I enjoy how in-depth Jeannie’s classes are. She is absolutely brilliant and stays up to date with current news. By doing so, she creates a dynamic class environment that is incredibly engaging,” Orr said.

Orr believes that USU students should definitely take a class from Johnson if the opportunity arises because of the relationships Johnson builds with her students.

“It is not about the grades, she wants us to truly learn and take the things we have learned and make the world a better place,” she said. “Every class is a treat. Truly. She is an expert in her field and that amount of knowledge she has is incredible.”

Hannah Penner is another USU student who echoes Orr’s sentiments about Johnson and her classes.

“Jeannie is an amazing example to me of a very successful woman who loves what she does and still holds true to her values,” Penner said. “She helps give me confidence in my own aspirations. She’s been an awesome mentor for me and for so many other students at USU.”

Jeannie Johnson

Penner appreciates the stimulating classes that Johnson teaches.

“She has a way of challenging your mindsets in the most enjoyable way and I always left class feeling edified and hungry for more knowledge. It was strenuous work but so much fun at the same time,” she said.

After completing her Ph.D. dissertation, Johnson had the opportunity to go to a conference in England where she had the chance to meet General James Mattis, now the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

As a result of spending time with Mattis as this conference, Johnson was able to build a good relationship with him and got him to come to USU to speak to the students in 2014.

Before the election this past fall, Johnson had Mattis speak to her students via Skype one day. Penner was one of the students in this class and said having that opportunity was incredible and she is extremely grateful to Johnson for making it happen.

“It was incredible to speak with General Mattis with his caliber and experience and see someone who has experienced what we all have high hopes of getting into. Not only did I and the other students matter enough to visit with General Mattis, but we had a spot on the global scale.  That students from little USU could hold their own,” Penner said.

Jeannie Johnson

Professor Colin Flint, an International Studies professor, enjoys getting to interact with Johnson and see how she impacts her students.

“She is a wonderful colleague who is thoughtful about the future of the political science department and the international studies major,” he said. “She is always willing to go the extra step to do what is best for the program and the students.”

Flint said Johnson cares deeply about her students and their successes both in and out of the classroom. Johnson is able to challenge them in a way that helps prepare them for their futures.

“She displays tough love knowing that grade inflation is their worst enemy and that creating tough assignments and grading them fairly and with rigor is the only way to prepare students for the professional world,” he said.

In Johnson enjoys spending her rare free time vacationing and hiking with her husband, Steve, and their three children.

Johnson loves USU for all that it has to offer. She enjoys working with her colleagues and getting to enjoy her office in Old Main. Although Johnson is fond of the history of the school and the beauty, her favorite part of USU is the students.

“Any time I bring a guest here, they are blown away by our students. Our students step up to the plate. They act like absolute professionals in the field,” Johnson said. “They come well informed, ready to ask interesting and challenging questions which is why I can get high ranking people to come to USU.”

Johnson thinks that students often underestimate the first rate education they are receiving at USU. She believes that students should work their hardest, so that when opportunities come along, they will be prepared for what is in store.

“You come here, you work hard and get a great education. This can be your circle,” she said. “You have no idea what adventures are in store for you. You don’t know who you are supposed to meet or what you are going to do to contribute. But those may be fairly extraordinary.”