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Nontraditional path to higher ed

March 3, 2023

BC Admissions CJ Leadership BC Stories

Advanced degrees lead to career advances

Growing up, Emy Johnson B’07, M’15 was taught by her mother that one can get by in life with “a little bit of grit, a whole lot of grace, and a whole lot of faith.” That determination launched Johnson, who now serves as the chief security officer at Allina Health, into a successful career in the corporate business world. 

When Johnson first entered the corporate world at Target Corporation, she had only a high school degree. During her first few years, as she moved up within the company, she had no plans to further her education. However, Johnson said she reached a point where she knew she would need to obtain a bachelor’s degree to further advance her career in the retail sector. But enrolling in college was a daunting thought.

“I just wasn’t sure I could do it at the end of the day,” she said. 

What she needed to return to the classroom was a little push, and she received it from a Saint Mary’s faculty member before she even enrolled. 

While working on a project for a local law enforcement organization, Johnson had the opportunity to meet Don Winger, the program director for the B.S. in Law Enforcement Leadership program at Saint Mary’s. During their interactions, Winger asked Johnson where she received her degree. 

“I answered the way I always did in professional settings: The school of hard knocks,” she said. 

Upon hearing her response, Winger insisted that Johnson return to the classroom and suggested she do so at Saint Mary’s. Still feeling she lacked the confidence to return to school, she had to think about it. To help ease those feelings, Winger said he would assist Johnson through her education any way he could, even on Day One. 

“I still felt I wasn’t ready to go back, and so to Don’s credit, he said, ‘I’ll walk with you to your first class, and I will help you be successful,’ ” she said. 

It was that promise, and follow-through, that led Johnson to enroll in a bachelor’s completion program.

“I just saw myself as someone who needed to get a degree but I didn’t actually see myself as a student,” she said. “And the idea of being a mom and a wife and a worker, while being a student on top of that, seemed overwhelming. But the day I walked into Saint Mary’s, I knew I had the support of the administration, faculty, and my fellow students. I knew I would be successful.” 

After finishing the bachelor’s completion program, Johnson wanted something that would complement her B.S. in Police Science, which led her to enroll in the M.A. in Human Development program at Saint Mary’s. 

Now equipped with two degrees, Johnson says her experience at Saint Mary’s informs how she leads as the chief security officer at Allina Health. 

“At the end of the day, when I think about what I took away from Saint Mary’s, the most important thing is community,” she said. “And that’s something we believe in at Allina. We’re not just a healthcare provider, we’re a healthcare provider that is making the community better. And Saint Mary’s taught me whether I was going to a class, an event, or even graduation, all of that was being part of a community.” 

Johnson knows continuing schooling can be daunting for nontraditional and adult learners; however, she wants those considering returning to school to know it’s never too late to do so. 

“Going back for my degree cemented in me the idea that I don’t have to do everything for everybody all the time. Completing my degree was doing something for me,” she said. “And I knew by doing that and making that single decision, it would change the pathway for my future as a professional.”