Chancellor Robert Johnson's vision includes cohesive branding and evolving with industry demands

By Angie Hilsman | Aug 25, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Robert Johnson took on chancellorship of UMass Dartmouth on July 1.

In the nearly two months since he arrived on campus, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Chancellor Robert Johnson has focused on getting face time.

"Something I try to do everyday and that people are surprised about is that I walk around," he said. "I think it’s important that people hear from me, and to walk into somebody’s office and say, ‘thank you.’”

Since he began work on July 1, Johnson has focused on learning the university's history, meeting its people, and defining his objectives.

His current goals? To build the university’s brand and give students the skills to market themselves in a constantly evolving job sphere.

He's hitting the ground running. Between September 15 and October 30, Johnson said he will begin interviewing 10 external groups — including town and state officials, and business leaders — and 20 internal groups — including students, staff, and faculty — as a way of brainstorming possibilities for the university.

“It’ll help us create a shared vision for UMass Dartmouth in the long run,” said Johnson. “It’s all about the narrative. Our brand ID is not clear and concise.”

That’ll translate to a better student experience, he explained, as the administration plans to amp up academic excellence, social responsibility, and creative expression.

“Culturally, you have to make students aware of those three things,” Johnson said, explaining that they are “prerequisites for success.”

Today’s graduates will average 15 jobs in seven different fields, he added. Creative expression will help students define their interests, their skill-set, and make them marketable for a variety of positions, he said. “You’ve got to constantly reinvent yourself.”

Expanding on social responsibility, Johnson said college graduates are among the most privileged of Earth’s seven billion people. “You have a responsibility to leave the planet better than you found it,” he said.

Opportunities to work and collaborate on projects on campus will only enhance students’ resumes, Johnson said. As an example, he proposed having art and engineering students design banners to brighten up the university’s drab concrete buildings.

“I’ve met a lot of people, a lot of great people. That’s the biggest asset we have here. Second to that is our programs,” he said. “We can provide a private university experience for a public university value.”

Johnson's time here hasn't all been work. He's exploring the Dartmouth community, including its varied culinary offerings.

“[Farm & Coast Market] has a chicken sausage with a kick that hits you right here,” he said, tapping beneath his jawline.

Prior to coming to UMass, Johnson served as president at Becker College in Worcester, a position he began in 2010. He is credited with increasing enrollment to record levels, improving student success, and elevating the reputation of the college during his time there.

Johnson has also served as senior vice president of Sinclair Community College, vice president of enrollment management at the University of Dayton, vice provost at Oakland University, and executive director of enrollment management at Central State University.

Johnson is also a member of the state Board of Higher Education, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Board, and chair of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

A Detroit native, he holds a doctorate degree in higher education administration from Touro University International, but surprisingly, never dreamed of going into education.

“In undergrad, I did not have any intent to go into education. It was not on my mind,” he said in the chancellor’s office.

He also holds a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Cincinnati, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Morehouse College.

“I just knew I wanted to lead and make a difference," he said.

Since March, 2016, Peyton Helm has served as interim chancellor for the UMass Dartmouth. Former chancellor Divina Grossman announced that she was stepping down in December 2015.

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