The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 14, 2002
October 14, 2002
VOL. 32, NO. 7


Renamed department teaches outside the classroom

Ralph Johnson discusses the newly defined mission guiding his offices

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

What's in a name? Ask Ralph Johnson, and he will tell you "plenty." Johnson, associate dean of student life at Homewood, heads a department which, in addition to a recent name change, is in the process of recasting itself.

This summer the Department of Student Life became the Department of Student Development and Programming. Serving the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, the department is composed of the offices of Greek Life, Homewood Arts Programs, Building Operations for the Levering Union and Mattin Center, Multicultural Student Affairs and Student Involvement.

"I feel the social, cultural, physical and spiritual sides [of a student] need to be nurtured as much as the intellectual side," says Ralph Johnson, associate dean of student life at Homewood.

Johnson says that the new designation, by stressing both development and programming, more accurately delineates the role of his department.

In addition, he says, the name change provided an opportunity to re-evaluate Student Development and Programming's mission, and thus Johnson and his staff spent the lion's share of the summer going through an organizational review analysis.

"We looked at the entire operation--how we were organized, who reported to whom, role clarity--basically, who should be doing what," Johnson says. "In the end, we decided that one, our mission needs to be clearer; and that number two, whatever we were doing, we were creating learning opportunities for students who involve themselves in co-curricular activities."

Specifically, the department's new mission statement is "to support the holistic development of students and provide programming to the university community, and to encourage the active engagement of students in diverse social, educational and cultural programs, which complements their academic experience and fosters personal and professional growth."

Johnson says he views himself and his staff as educators who should actively promote learning outside the classroom.

"We want to be involved in intentionally and deliberately providing learning opportunities for students to help them develop holistically," he says. "We want students to be responsible citizens and to understand accountability as a way to ensure their leadership skills are being enhanced through their involvement."

Johnson gave the example of a leader of a campus organization who, when planning an event, misses an important deadline because he or she procrastinates.

"In this instance, we might be able to teach the importance of time management, following through on commitments and developing priorities," he says. "There might be other cases where we can help students learn how to manage their emotions, develop autonomy or establish career choices."

Johnson says the difficult task in implementing the new mission and "paradigm shift" is striking the proper balance be-tween customer service and student development.

"What we are saying is, We are going to be civil, courteous, and make this a warm and open environment for anyone who walks in our doors," he says. "And at the same time, where there are opportunities to help students grow, we will also provide that--although that might not necessarily make the student 100 percent happy."

Johnson, who joined Hopkins in 1994, earned his doctorate in higher education from the University of South Carolina. Prior to his arrival here, he was the Greek adviser at the University of Arkansas and then the director of minority student affairs for the University of South Carolina. Johnson began his Hopkins career as director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and in 2000 was named associate dean of student life.

In describing his eight-year experience at Hopkins, Johnson says he's found that there tends to be a disproportionate number of students "who spend a phenomenal amount of time developing the intellectual side of themselves, almost to the detriment of their total selves," whereas the opposite was true, generally speaking, at the other universities where he was employed.

"I feel the social, cultural, physical and spiritual sides need to be nurtured as much as the intellectual side in order for a person to be comfortable with him or herself, and with other people," he says. "Ideally, I want a Hopkins student to leave the institution a better person and a better citizen."

The Department of Student Development and Programming is currently in the process of creating a new brochure to define its educational priorities.

It is also conducting a survey of the roughly 120 student groups currently not affiliated with the Student Activities Council. When the work is completed, for the first time in school history there will be a common database of all JHU student groups.

Johnson says that for the many groups presently "not accountable to anyone," an effort is under way to pair them up with faculty and staff who might be interested in advising them. Once the advisers have been identified, Johnson says, they will be trained in order to do their job more effectively.

"All this is brand new," he says. "We are a department in transition, but it's an exciting time."

To mark its new name and commitment to its redefined mission, the Student Development and Programming staff will host an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, in their offices in suite 210 of the Mattin Center. All students, faculty and staff are invited.