News for NMU Employees

Campus Closeup: Paul Johnston

Paul Johnston (Admissions) enrolled in Northern after high school because of its interdisciplinary environmental science program and location ideally suited to his outdoor recreational interests. An impromptu campus visit convinced him Northern was the right fit, so he promptly canceled a previously scheduled visit elsewhere. Before earning his bachelor’s degree, Johnston spent a few summers as a student intern with a global change experiment through the University of Minnesota. So how did he make the leap from science to student services and ultimately admissions?

“My quick answer to that question is, ‘People talk more than plants do,’” he said. “My first goal was to do research, get my doctorate and teach at a university. But through the internship I realized I was happy doing others’ research, but didn’t have a singular research interest of my own that I could see devoting the rest of my career to. I had conversations with a resident director while I was a student and became an RD myself after graduation. It was great watching students develop from move-in day to the end of their first year and to be completely invested in the student experience 24/7. But it’s also tiring because its high energy all the time. I knew it wasn’t a long-term job for me.”

Johnston had started his third year as an RD when he transitioned into admissions midway through the recruitment cycle. His first role was a territory recruiter in the eastern Upper Peninsula and lower Michigan. He spent 14-16 weeks of the year on the road. Johnston later shifted to a campus-based position and now focuses his attention on homeschooled, re-entry, post-baccalaureate and veteran students.

“It’s not the same as working with traditional first-time, full-time freshmen prospects. They are dealing with unique situations and require a different style of communication with more frequent contact and, in some cases, different documentation. I also do some in-office data analysis for our office to look at where prospects are coming from and that kind of thing. It’s something I enjoy with my background in science and my tendency to make data-driven decisions. Doing things in more strategic ways is interesting to me and I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping our office do what we do more effectively in a competitive market.”

There are plenty of rewards associated with admissions work. One frustration, according to Johnston, is investing a significant amount of time and effort into helping a prospective student through the process, only to have that student decide not to enroll shortly before classes begin for financial reasons or other obligations.

Being a campus-based admissions counselor is better for Johnston’s family life. He met wife Summer through Water’s Edge Church, where he now serves on the deacon board. The couple has an 18-month-old daughter, Linnea. Their home is often filled with the scent of fresh-roasted coffee. Johnson began the hobby in response to the rising cost of java and after reading an instructional book from the library. “I’ve made bad coffee along the way, but it’s really good now. My wife calls me a coffee snob and I have to admit that I am.”

Johnston still enjoys the outdoors for recreation, if not a vocation. He is a kayaker, member of the Chocolay Ace Hardware club cycling team and mountain bike race competitor.  He also likes endurance events in cross-country skiing and running. He typically works the Noquemanon because he sits on the board and race director committee, but may have a chance to compete in it this winter. Johnston also is training for his first ultra marathon—a 50-mile trail race—in 2015.