Human development major follows her passion to a career in education
Brooklyn native Nia Johnson made the most of her time at Binghamton University as a member of the Student Association and the Educational Opportunity Program. Along the way, she discovered a passion for teaching and righting inequality.
Nia Johnson grew up in East Flatbush, a hardworking, predominately West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the second generation of these immigrant households is not only encouraged to attend college, it is an unequivocal expectation.
“Growing up in a Jamaican immigrant home, college was always on my radar,” Johnson said. “As early as middle school, my mother was asking about my plans after high school. When she asked where I would be living if I didn’t attend college, I got the hint.”
Johnson’s top choice was the historically Black college, Howard University, in Washington, D.C. But once she considered the financial reality of attending a private school and what she could expect in aid and scholarships, she realized that Binghamton University made better sense for her and her family.
EOP and student success
Johnson visited Binghamton several times and learned how the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) would support her as an incoming first-year student. Participating in the EOP’s pre-first-year student summer Binghamton Enrichment Program (BEP) helped reinforce her decision to attend Binghamton.
“After I was accepted into EOP and saw that my parents would be able to afford my tuition without having to take out loans, I knew Binghamton was the right choice,” Johnson said. “I tend to make decisions thinking long term and since I have younger siblings who are also expected to attend college, I didn’t want to put that kind of financial burden on my parents.”
In the fall of 2019, Johnson arrived at Binghamton ready to pursue a degree in political science, and for the next two years, that’s just what she did. However, by the end of her second year, she began to recognize that she was feeling dissatisfied with her current program and needed to reevaluate the course she was on.
“The summer after my sophomore year I had to have a sit down with myself and acknowledge that I was not happy. I was just doing the work to pass exams, there was no joy. So, I decided to change my major,” Johnson said. “My first semester back, in human development, was a completely different experience. I found that I enjoyed all of my classes and was eager to participate in classroom discussions because these were topics that resonated with me. We were covering things that I really cared about.”
While Johnson was considering what to do with her degree, she joined the Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (J.U.M.P.) as a program mentor. J.U.M.P. is a four-day interventional weekend of forums, workshops and mentorship offered to 8th-grade students from New York City and surrounding areas to improve high school graduation rates and boost college enrollment. She also served on J.U.M.P.’s executive board.
“After working with J.U.M.P., I realized how much I loved interacting with students,” Johnson said. “And I began to see that inequality in the Black community is a problem that can be solved with education. Understanding that education is the key helped ignite my desire to become a teacher.”
In addition to her BA in human development, Johnson will be graduating with a minor in education.
Breaking glass ceilings
Along with EOP and J.U.M.P., Johnson became involved in the Student Association (SA) as a first-year student, interning in the Office of the Vice President for Multicultural Affairs. Here, she gained insight into the significance of student organizations on the Binghamton campus and the value of the SA in helping these organizations succeed. In her second year, she was director of constituency relations under then-president Khaleel James, and last year, she served as chief of staff to the vice president for multicultural affairs, Mary Hu.
“I started working in the SA office because I wanted to help and be a resource for other students,” Johnson said. “However, I grew to realize that I wanted to occupy one of those seats and be part of the discussion and decision-making.”
So, Johnson tossed her hat into the political ring. In spring 2022, Johnson was elected SA president, only the second female student in the association’s 70+ years to hold that seat and the first Black woman to do so.
“Only three students who identify as Black held the seat before me,” Johnson said, “so that was a huge accomplishment in itself. I was excited to be able to bring my experiences as a woman of color to the table, but the responsibility was also daunting. I knew the impact that this role might have on student lives, and I never wanted to let anyone down.”
Johnson has made the most of her time at Binghamton, taking advantage of opportunities that came her way and always paying it backward. She worked as a resident assistant for two academic years in an all-first-year residence hall and has been part of New Student Programs during orientation. Johnson also served as a peer counselor for BEP, a program she credits with helping her navigate the transition to higher education.
“Nia has a deep commitment to impacting the lives of others, and she has done so in several ways across campus,” EOP Director Karima Legette said. “She has a keen perspective and voices her opinions in ways that empower others. I was especially impressed watching her ability to connect with incoming first-year students as a counselor in the Binghamton Enrichment Program.”
Last month, Johnson delivered the 2023 Class Representative speech at the EOP Senior Recognition and Awards Ceremony. Her heartfelt and inspirational speech, selected in a blind review by a committee of students and staff, encouraged her peers to use the tools and personal power they acquired in Binghamton as they move out into the world. She also talked about the community she discovered on campus; most of all, the friends and mentors she made through her involvement with EOP.
“I will forever be indebted to EOP,” Johnson said. “I gained a family through EOP that will be with me throughout my life. Additionally, EOP introduced me to ‘org life.’ It was during my time in BEP that I learned about all of the multicultural organizations on campus. The connections that I made with other EOP students and students of color helped instill a sense of belonging.”
Johnson encourages other students to make the most of their collegiate careers.
“Take advantage of every opportunity that comes along and don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Even if something doesn’t work out, at least you tried and you won’t be left wondering, ‘What if?’ Because the ‘what ifs’ are the real killers.”
Back on the block
As Johnson prepares to graduate, she already has plans in place for her next endeavor. In August, she will begin teaching third grade at the Uncommon Charter School in Brooklyn, just a few blocks away from where she attended high school.
“I knew that when I started teaching, I would work in a neighborhood I could identify with,” Johnson said. “I want to be able to connect with students and parents outside of the classroom and give back to the kind of neighborhoods that I grew up in, and that gave me so much.”
Johnson will continue to hone her credentials with plans to pursue a master’s in teaching program at Teachers College, Columbia University, or New York University.
“Whatever happens next is written in the stars. But I’ve always imagined myself as an NYU girl,” she said. “So, wish me luck!”