Michael Johnson: Leadership Inspired by Students

Some people in the Excelsior College community know Michael Johnson as the associate dean of technology in the School of Business & Technology. Others know him as a two-time graduate of the College. Still, others know him as the instructor of the leadership course in the MBA program.

Johnson has been teaching BUS 552: Leadership each term for the past two years. The course focuses on the leadership process within the broad context of organizational dynamics. Students in the course examine leadership from the perspectives of the leader, the follower, the situation, and leadership skills. Johnson, who has a doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix, finds leadership to be a passion.

“Leaders can influence people and have an impact on how organizations perform,” he says. “I enjoy developing relationships with people where I can mentor them and hopefully improve their careers. It is rewarding to see someone you mentored have a successful career.”

For that reason, his inspiration is the students in the course. As a Navy veteran, he particularly enjoys the interaction with military servicemembers. He has been where they are, and because of that, he can relate to them and all online learners balancing work with education.

“I was in their shoes. I walked in their path to get where I’m at with the degrees,” says Johnson. “It’s the same thing when I go to the [nuclear] plants or talk to some students who work at the plants. I was a manager when I was going to school … I tell them if I can do it, they can do it.”

Johnson was a nuclear limited duty officer in Norfolk, Virginia, a Navy nuke working shifts and attending night school when he found Regents College [forerunner to Excelsior], most likely through the base’s education office. At Regents, he took exams to earn the remaining upper-level credit he needed and within two months he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts sociology. As a naval reactors representative, he worked on the USS Enterprise to refuel the nuclear reactors. He pursued his master’s in management at the Florida Institute of Technology’s satellite campus in Norfolk, setting a goal to earn his degree in two years. He would work his shift at the shipyard, go to class, do homework, and then after two years and three months, he earned the degree.

Next up was his doctorate, completed online. Then came the realization that he needed a technical degree to move ahead in his career. He was working in a technical field without a technical degree.

So, back to Excelsior he came — to the ABET-accredited nuclear engineering technology program— and he hasn’t left. After earning his BS in nuclear engineering technology, he sought opportunities to stay connected with Excelsior. Johnson worked as the subject matter expert for thermodynamics and revised the course NUC 245 (Thermodynamics). He also taught the capstone course in the BS in Technology program. He saw from varied perspectives how valuable online learning is, and began to promote Excelsior College at the powerplant where he worked.

After his 35-year career in the nuclear industry in the military, commercial, and government sectors, during which he had often served as an instructor, Johnson transitioned to teaching in the field.

“Since high school I have always wanted to teach history. I did two instructor duty tours in the Navy where I instructed sailors on the theory and operation of nuclear power plants. After earning my doctorate, the passion to teach was renewed,” he explains.

He has applied that passion in several roles at the College. As the faculty program director for energy management, a position he held from 2014 to 2017, he applied his first-hand knowledge of the nuclear industry and its demands for structure and attention to detail to ensuring Excelsior offers quality courses and delivers learning experiences that prepare students for success in technology fields. In 2015, he helped revise the capstone course in the nuclear engineering technology program, and a simulation will be added to the capstone for Fall I. The simulation will help reinforce the knowledge students have acquired as they make ethical decisions as a team.

Teaching the graduate-level business course seems to bring his experiences as a leader – in the military and at Excelsior – into the student experience.

What does he want students to take away from the course? “Understanding the importance of leadership and recognizing the impact that effective leaders have on organizations and people,” he says. “I emphasize as a leader you are always learning and that self-reflection needs to be included in their leadership toolkit.”