Longtime Focused Inquiry Faculty Member, Department Chair Reflects on 14 Years of Service
After more than 14 years with the Department of Focused Inquiry, Melissa Johnson, Ph.D. is leaving University College for an exciting new opportunity. We wanted to give Dr. Johnson, who was the first professor in the Department, a moment to reflect on what it was like to watch the Department grow since its founding, what her role as faculty and chair of the Department has given her, what she’ll miss the most about FI and VCU and more.
What is one thing that you accomplished while in the Department that you always be proud of?
Everything that has been accomplished in this Department has been a collective effort, but I am very proud that, in my time here: We designed, implemented and perfected a faculty evaluation system; we wrote (and regularly revised) our Department Bylaws; we elected our first Chair (who happened to be me), as well as other department leaders; we were granted department status by VCU and SCHEV; and we began a really important conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion in our teaching practices through the Curriculum Development Award we received from the Division of Inclusive Excellence in 2017. Since I’ve been Chair, we have also hired 23 excellent new faculty members and increased the ethnic and racial diversity of the Department faculty through seven of these hires. Many other wonderful things happen in our Department every year, but these are the ones I was most involved in.
What is one of your favorite memories from your time in FI/at VCU?
There are so many that it is really hard to pick one, but most of them involve sitting around a table or standing in a hallway with my colleagues trying to figure out the best way to address a problem, act on an opportunity or have a successful class meeting.
What was it like to watch the Department grow over the years?
It has been amazing to watch this Department come into existence and constantly reinvent itself while staying true to our core values of learner-centered teaching and pedagogical collaboration. As I used to tell faculty job candidates, FI is a magical place.
It has been amazing to watch this Department come into existence and constantly reinvent itself while staying true to our core values of learner-centered teaching and pedagogical collaboration."
What will you miss the most about UC/VCU/Richmond?
My wonderful colleagues and students, the view from my office window and the James River.
What has your time in UC/FI given you personally and professionally?
I’ve learned so much about effective teaching, supporting student success, shared governance and higher education administration and I’ve made so many dear, lifelong friends. Serving as Textbook and Curriculum Coordinator and then as Chair helped build my confidence and my administrative skills and helped me clarify my purpose, my passions and my values.
I’ve learned so much about effective teaching, supporting student success, shared governance and higher education administration and I’ve made so many dear, lifelong friends."
What’s next for you?
My new role is Associate Vice President and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at Penn State University.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I’d like to thank Mike Abelson for agreeing to take over as Interim Chair. I have complete confidence that the Department is in the best possible hands and will continue to flourish. His integrity, pursuit of excellence, and servant leadership make him an excellent choice for this role.