Alumni Spotlight: SFC Marian Johnson (Ret)
By Mike Lesczinski, Excelsior Life News Staff
ALBANY, NEW YORK - Hoping to see the world, Marion Johnson (AS in Liberal Arts '12) joined the United States Army in the late 1970s on the advice of a family friend. Over the next 22 years, Johnson, traveled the globe, spending time in Germany (twice), Korea, Alabama, Texas, Colorado, and Maryland. While stationed abroad, she made time to see each and every adjoining country.
She married within three years of joining the military and soon started a family. Along the way she took some college classroom courses at night while working as an instructor of military occupation skills. She never completed a degree while on active duty, however, always placing her two daughters’ education ahead of her own.
After retiring from the Army in 1998 as a sergeant first class, Johnson took a position as a JROTC instructor. Eventually, career advancement required her to head back to school for an associate degree. She began to search for institutions with the flexibility necessary to balance her life. Her fellow instructors, graduates of Excelsior College themselves, were quick to recommend the private, nonprofit, educational institution.
After extensive research and speaking with Excelsior’s admissions team, Johnson soon learned that the College would accept her transfer credits earned abroad along with several military service and community college courses. Her goal was within reach: she needed just 13 credits to finish an associate degree.
Not having a VA education benefit to fall back on, Johnson discovered that Excelsior also had an educational partnership with the Capital District (NY) chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), which would let her pursue her degree with reduced tuition and fees. She quickly transferred her membership from the Maryland AUSA Chapter to the Capital District one in order to take advantage of this benefit.
Online learning was an unfamiliar concept to Johnson, and she found the classes far more demanding than anticipated. But her academic advisors offered the support, guidance, and motivation she needed to succeed.
Balancing home life, which included taking care of an elderly mother, with her school work wasn’t always easy. Often times, Johnson would return home from work only to barricade herself in her room with a laptop and a stack of assignments until 10 p.m. But her husband and children never wavered in their support – they understood that a degree meant more to Johnson than a piece of paper.
“My daughters, both of whom earned graduate degrees, were my inspiration and kept me motivated along the way” said Johnson. “And that’s what I try to instill in all my JROTC students: that when life presents you with a challenge, you can either run away or deal with it. What you decide defines you as a person.”
Saying that her own educational journey is far from complete, Johnson plans to continue making an impact on young people as a JROTC instructor, helping to teach them not only the social sciences but leadership skills and life lessons.
“I want my bachelor’s degree, and when I put my mind to it, I know I will succeed.”
At this point, who would doubt her?