Meet Joslyn Johnson, the LSA Opportunity Hub’s latest director and the college’s new assistant dean of career initiatives & student development
What poignant lessons from your past work experiences are you bringing into your new role as director of the Hub and the college’s new assistant dean of student development and career initiatives?
I've been involved in student development since my collegiate years as an undergraduate student. So, I’ve got 15+ years of student insights that I’m bringing into this role. My introduction into the world of adult learning came through a part-job as an RA and a multicultural advisor where as a student myself, I began to be observant and aware of what was taking place with other students. I went on to become a hall director which was an incredibly intensive experience, not only because I was living where I worked, but I was now responsible for the students residing in the building. It was a formative time in my life.
What I noticed in all of my roles, whether it was in Residential Life or the work I did in enrollment services overseeing a Welcome Center, is the panic that I witnessed in students nearing graduation. They were really nervous about life beyond college and they questioned if they would be able to do ‘life’ well. It really started to bother me when I saw that students felt super unprepared for what was next and I was cognizant of the fact that some students’ anxiety was further exacerbated from the college debt they incurred. Students that re-connected with me years later would share “I'm doing really well!” while others were struggling to get a good start.
This is why I decided to do a grounded study that looked at life-wide learning—in order to identify critical learning experiences and transitions that adults undergo to be successful in life. I pursued a PhD that focused on student access and service, community outreach, and the learning experiences that helped students go on to be successful in adulthood. My research gave me incredible learnings that I can definitively say are salient to the Hub’s holistic approach to professional identity and development.
Unexpectedly, purpose became the recurring theme throughout my research. So, I started to look at institutions that were incorporating purpose into the work that they were doing and in short, this led me to the role I held at Stanford. The heart of my work there lay at the intersection of identity and career. As the director of Career Catalysts and associate dean of career education, I was primarily focused on the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion within career exploration. Mentorship was also one of the key components to the work because of the social capital it provided students through a robust and active alum network.
These are just some of the key areas that have helped to shape the way that I’m approaching my work here at the Hub.
What will career support for liberal arts and sciences students at U-M look like at the Hub in the coming years?
I envision the Hub as a place that really focuses on the student as a whole. Professionally, I see purpose as an area that hasn’t been tapped into at it’s full potential. Our aim is to have as many conversations as we can with students about connecting their student experience—their coursework, part-time jobs, internships, job shadowing, study-abroads, and more—to purposeful work they see themselves pursuing. And it’s imperative to have these conversations early, especially as first and second years.
So, I see the Hub as a place where people can come and really explore what purpose truly is and walk away with practical skill sets for pursuing those purposeful paths. How can the Hub help students build their own tribe or board of directors? How can we help them create their own support system that can help them get there? How can students start writing their own stories and career narratives that can connect them to a myriad of potential career pathways? We need to reframe this idea that there’s only one job and industry for them.
No matter who reaches out to the Hub, there’s a place for every student and a way for them to get to the next step. Generationally, this is something that's so important to me because I understand how important education is in changing the trajectory of someone's life, especially for first-generation students and those who have been historically marginalized who do not have access to generational wealth. When I say wealth, I’m referring to the wealth of wellbeing, access, connections, and finances.
I also see the Hub as an exemplar to multiple other institutions. The way that the Hub has structured itself is very unique: there’s a team focused on alum engagement, another for coaching,employer engagement, and data and learning assessment. These functional areas come together to create a career exploration center that is one-of-a-kind. It really sets a golden standard for what institutions can do with student career support that goes beyond resume reviews and interview preparation, although these things are important, but helps students self-author their own lives and shape the futures they want.
What priority areas do you see the Hub expanding or building up on the horizon?
The area that we will be expanding the most is our employee engagement area. We’ve been shaping and restructuring this area for some time and we’ve finally hit the sweet spot with our new director of employer engagement. Currently, we’re looking at how we can create more partnerships with employers so that students are able to connect as early as first and second-years. Additionally, we’ve ramped out our outreach efforts so we can integrate employer work more deeply throughout the work of the college.
Alums have always been a lynchpin to the student learning experience. Which is why we’re calling on more alums than ever to find out more about their experiences, the programs that they majored in, and some of the resources they wish they could have had -- this is fuel that can help power the launch of new programs and ideas within different spaces. One of the ideas we’re bringing to reality soon is an employment referral program where students can be connected to job opportunities they care about and at employers where our alums work.
How can alums, donors, employers partner with the Hub?
My message to alums: join us on LSA Connect. Even if you can’t commit to long-term mentorship, the impact of just giving quick advice to one student at a time is enduring and invaluable. It’s really about developing a community for U-M’s liberal arts and sciences students—which is why our tagline for LSA Connect is “Let’s find your people.”
Also, we ask alums to connect with our Alum Engagement team to explore the different ways you can tell your story, whether it’s via our social media or through the Alum Connection sessions we host all year-long.
Mentorship is so pivotal to a student’s life because it allows students to develop a relational circle of people who can support them. And it’s not always just about acquiring job opportunities, although that matters a ton—it’s about finding people who can help them navigate identity issues because they share similar lived experiences or racial or gender identity. I think that this is important for Generation Z in particular because they have a really strong desire for purpose-filled lives and fulfillment.
In the short time I’ve been serving at the helm of the Hub, I’ve realized something: we are not a typical career center—we don’t provide a transactional service where we give students a pre-fixed menu of what they can do with their major—but rather, we see students as being authors of their own lives who just need a bit of support along the way in writing their own stories.