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Opening Doors Through Education

UMD alumnus Patrick Johns
May 21, 2019

Patrick Johns built a career by setting students on a new path.

There’s one thing you can count on, Patrick Johns ’76 puts students first. From his first position in higher education and in every position going forward, he has helped shift-workers, unemployed people, and those returning to the classroom flourish.

As he prepares to retire as president of Lake Superior College (LSC) on June 30, 2019, UMD asked Patrick, or Pat as he likes to be called, to reflect on his career.

In the late 1970s, Pat landed in Virginia, Minn. as the student financial aid director and academic counselor at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College. Facing an economic downturn, people on the Iron Range who worked in the mining industry were seeking retraining. Pat was on the front lines, meeting students to help them get the classes to plan for a new career.

“Some were still working shifts, and that meant it was impossible for them to attend every class,” he says. “Let’s just say we came up with creative possibilities.” Pat worked with the faculty to set up “independent courses” that allowed for rotating midnight, day, and afternoon shifts. Students would still attend classes, but if they missed one, the faculty would meet with students privately, so they could stay on track. “The students were really motivated. It was great to see them succeed.”

Later, in his twenty-year role as president of Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Pat turned his “creative possibilities” into policy. Every time the nation faced a recession, like the two in the 1980s, and the “economic downturn” in the 1990s, Pat put students first. “At the time, there wasn’t a lot of support for women retraining for better jobs in the work world,” Pat says. “They needed flexibility, so we designed a two-year degree around a Friday night/Saturday schedule.”

The unemployment lines grew long, and again, Pat and his team took the lead. “We reduced tuition,” he says. It was a “bold move,” but it paid off for the students and the school. “It wasn’t a hand-out,” he says. “Students verified their status with a signed document from the unemployment office to receive a fifty percent tuition reduction.” Hundreds of students were then able to earn their Associate of Arts degree.

Pat is especially proud of several initiatives at LSC. Their growing aviation programs, including pilot training, aviation maintenance technician, and aviation management are popular, but the newest computer programs, are getting attention. “Cyber security and cyber defense are quickly becoming sought-after careers,” Pat says. “It’s an example of how we adjust the curriculum to be responsive to community needs.”

Pat speaks highly of LSC’s partnership with UMD. “Our graduates transfer to UMD more than any other school,” he says. “We’re proud of our good relationship with UMD.”

Pat points out one more alliance, the Bridges to Baccalaureate Program. “Our students attend UMD in the summer and get compensated for research in the sciences,” he says. “It’s a powerful initiative that changes students' lives.” Students also work in laboratories with UMD faculty mentors during the school year, and they get to travel to national science meetings, all expenses paid.

At LSC, Pat is winding down his presidency and a life-long career in Minnesota. He received degrees in history and psychology from UMD, a masters degree from the University of Wisconsin–Superior, and a doctorate from the University of South Dakota. He was also an assistant men’s basketball coach at UMD.

Time after time, across Minnesota, Pat has taken away educational roadblocks. “We didn’t cut corners or lower standards,” he says. “We simply removed barriers.” Pat Johns has made an impact. He has made the state and the people of Minnesota stronger.

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