Selfless and dedicated to community service, CAC mother of five is rewarded with academic success

By Guy Harrison, Media & Marketing Specialist

APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. - To most people in the Apache Junction community, Michelle Johnson is a public servant, someone who seeks to come to the aid of those in her community when not tending to her home and family.

What they don't know, however, is that despite making a run at a city council spot and falling just 30 votes short in the primary election in March, Johnson can still continue to do what she knows best - serve others.

Johnson, one of two student commencement speakers and a graduating honors student at Central Arizona College's Superstition Mountain Campus, is a willing and eager servant of her community and family, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. She believes that this is her purpose in life. This was instilled in her at a young age and represents what she is now. This also is a belief that she is trying to instill in her five children.

Johnson, who was born in Phoenix and raised in Texas before returning to Arizona at the age of 17, was the oldest of six children. She believes that this position, along with her experience as a youth leader in her religious community, gave her a unique opportunity to serve her family at an early age.

"Both of my parents worked full-time and my mother was a student while I was being raised so they relied heavily on me to take care of our home and my siblings," Johnson recalls.

It is this experience that led her to what she believes was a natural progression into public service.

"I don't know that entering the world of public service was ever a real decision for me," she said.

Wanting to further her education so that she can better serve her community after 14 years as a stay-at-home mother and a career in cosmetology, Johnson descended upon Central Arizona College's Superstition Mountain Campus - citing its proximity to her home and affordability as the impetus for her decision. This convenience allowed her to continue living the life she desires to live.

"[Going to CAC] enabled me to stay close to home so I didn't have to spend a lot of money commuting and it saved me a lot of time so that I could remain active in my children's extracurricular activities as well as preserving time for my own interests and pursuits in the community."

Johnson readily admits that attending classes once again after a 15-year hiatus was somewhat intimidating at first, but her professors' helpfulness and approachability helped to squelch any ideas that she was out of her element.

"There is a lot of truth to the statement that [my instructors] really were invested in my success as a student. They always made time to answer any questions I had or to read through a paper and offer corrective feedback."

For Johnson, entering the honors program represented a step outside of her comfort zone but, as she states, the move was well worth it.

"Getting involved in honors helped me to stretch what I thought I was capable of. It was a scary thing to do, but once I tasted success from taking this risk I was rewarded with more knowledge, unique experiences and confidence to keep pushing myself to achieve academically."

When USA Today hit the streets on Monday, April 11, Johnson found her name inside the pages under the heading Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholar. She received a $1,500 stipend and a special medallion for claiming her national honor.

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation sponsors the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team program by recognizing 50 Gold, 50 Silver and 50 Bronze scholars, and providing nearly $187,500 in stipends annually.

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society administers the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Program and recognizes Coca-Cola Community College scholars during All-State Community College Academic Team Recognition ceremonies held in 37 states. Student scholars also receive local recognition during ceremonies held on campus.

On Feb. 23, Johnson was named to the All-Arizona Academic First Team during a recognition ceremony at the Fiesta Resort Conference Center in Tempe, Ariz. She earned a $1,000 scholarship for her honor and is eligible for a full tuition scholarship to Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University or the University of Arizona.

When Johnson looks back on her time at CAC, she believes that her experiences in the classroom, in the college's prestigious honors program, as well as other opportunities, such as the college's Student Public Policy Forum, have changed her for the better, allowing her to work on skills that she admits were not strengths for her.

Through all of this, though, Johnson has managed to do the things that she enjoys most: participating in carpools, attending local high school sporting events, hobbies, concerts, scout organizations, and church events, not to mention raising her five children and running for office. Some at CAC have taken notice.

Dr. Doris Helmich, the college's vice-president of student services, has worked with Johnson on the public policy forum. Aside from Johnson's substantial knowledge of public policy issues, Helmich has been impressed with her success, despite the numerous hats she wears.

"Only a few outstanding students offer a unique perspective and really embrace their learning of the subject matter," Helmich said. "Despite numerous academic and family responsibilities, Michelle has worked diligently to maintain a high level of academic success."

After graduating, Johnson plans to attend Arizona State University where she will earn a degree in English literature and composition. She also hopes to learn the French language this summer while spending time with her kids.

As her youngest child enters adolescence, for many this time represents the end of the road; time to watch their children become adults; time to prepare for retirement. For Johnson, however, this is just the beginning.

Aside from her role as the eldest child, it is the service, and death of a close friend that motivates Johnson to serve her community every day.

"When they died, they left me with years of good memories of all the times they dropped what they were doing to come help me with something. From that moment on, I knew that for me, in my life, the only real difference I could make was by serving others."

Central Arizona College - District Office 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128 Phone: 800-237-9814