Posted by Jeremy Pittenger on May 23, 2014
A college student experience helped shape the work of Kris Johnson, Wackerlin Fellow and Academic Advisor, and led to the transformation of many Aurora University students’ lives. Johnson was a college camp counselor for children with disabilities, and subsequently helped start several not-for-profit scuba adventure programs for adolescents with disabilities. The work inspired her, and formed the idea that service could go beyond the boundaries of employment. It’s a message she shares with AU students today.
“I think our society tends to want to compartmentalize the idea of service into a silo for those middle-age individuals who have a solid income and vacation time,” said Johnson. “Our students break that mold. They inspire me in so many ways. Their selfless giving of time and talent reminds me of all the good in the world.”
For organizing co-curricular programs that teach students the principle of “service before self,” Johnson was presented with the John McKee Citizenship Award during Honors Convocation earlier this spring. The award recognizes individuals who affirm the university’s core values of integrity, citizenship, continuous learning and excellence.
Students in the Leadership Education And Development (L.E.A.D.) program, which Johnson helped start in 2007, have demonstrated social responsibility through various experiential activities that they have developed. In particular, the Sleep Out on the Quad event has proved to be an educational and inspirational event for the past three years. Students participated in full nights of activities, including small group discussions, aimed at raising awareness of homelessness in the Aurora area. They also contributed to powerful morning reflection sessions.
Jessica Grazulis, BA ’13, feels that no other event has impacted her life as much as Sleep Out on the Quad. “As I sat listening to the accounts of a woman unable to buy her child new shoes for school and a man struggling to find food every day, I became overwhelmed with the desire to help,” she said. “For the first time in my life, I felt in touch with my own humanity.”
Such reactions are what encourages Johnson to continue her work to enhance student development related to self-knowledge and leadership competence. “Seeing the response of those being served as well as those serving motivates me,” said Johnson. “Having Aurora University students discover that as a part of the ‘Discover What Matters’ mantra, that they matter and that they can make a difference is powerful beyond compare. There is a magic that ignites when people reach out to each other.”