Dr. Barbara Johnson returns to Maryville College

After ten years teaching at Maryville, followed by almost ten years away from Maryville, Dr. Barbara Johnson returned to the campus last year as an adjunct professor, but now she is back full-time as an associate professor of computer science.

After receiving a doctorate in computer science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Johnson started teaching at Maryville College as an adjunct professor in 2001 and became an assistant professor in 2002. From there, she taught at MC until 2011, when health issues required her to take time off.

Over the last decade, many of these complications became more manageable, allowing Johnson to begin teaching again in the last few years. She worked at Pellissippi State Community College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga until the fall of 2020, when timing seemed to match up perfectly.

When Johnson left in 2011, Dr. Robert Lowe took her position, but he happened to leave at the same time that Johnson felt ready to return.

“It was just a sheer coincidence,” Johnson said.

Although this return occurred last year, Johnson said this year feels more like the first true year back at Maryville due to the nature of teaching during the beginning of the pandemic. She taught most of her classes online last year, waiting until receiving her COVID-19 vaccine to feel safe about teaching a larger class in-person.

“It sort of seems like it used to be,” Johnson said, “Except for the masks and social distancing, it’s the same.”

Johnson is happy in any case to be able to be back at Maryville, where she has been able to use her background in the industry and her long path to teaching to encourage students to find their path and excel in it.

Despite now having bachelor’s, masters and doctorate degrees, Johnson never expected to get to where she is now when she was growing up.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even think I would go to college, because I grew up in a pretty poor family, and my father did not even graduate high school,” Johnson said.

After graduating high school, she worked as a secretary but quickly realized she wanted something more. She decided to pursue an art degree from Viterbo University, but once graduating with it, she still couldn’t find a job related to her degree. She kept searching for something else to do that would really fulfill her. A friend recommended taking classes in computer science, and from there, Johnson’s passion ignited.

“I instantly fell in love with it, and I have never turned back,” Johnson said. “When you find the career that is really right for you, it just feels so right, and I feel very fortunate I was able to find something that suited me so well.”

She worked to prepare for graduate school and then got her masters in computer science.  A few years later, she decided to get her doctorate after moving to Knoxville and having children, a feat that cannot be understated.

“I don’t recommend it,” Johnson laughed and said. “It was rough. I’m kind of amazed myself that I did it with kids.”

Before teaching, she worked for a Department of Defense contractor in Washington, D.C., writing software for the Navy as well as for a company that helped online developers, meaning she had to be familiar with a wide variety of software. Here, Johnson picked up skills and knowledge she still uses today.

She believes having industry experience helps her better understand what students need to know before going into a career—very valuable knowledge for an educator. She likes to teach in a collaborative way, acknowledging that almost any job will require collaboration.

“When you are in the workplace, you are not working in a vacuum, in isolation,” Johnson said. “We share ideas, we help each other. Of course I want students to do their own work, but I also like to see a spirit of working together.”

Besides teaching, Johnson’s other passion is simply spending time with her family and friends. Besides her own children, she has a sister and grandchildren whom she enjoys greatly. She also has a lot of friends with whom she loves to play lots of tabletop games. They would get together often pre-pandemic to play games, but when the quarantine started, they all missed being able to spend this time together. So Johnson got creative.

She used her computer science skills to write some games that everyone could play online, and now, she and her friends still play these games on a daily basis. They play games like Codenames, Scattergories, Just One, Euchre, Parade, and others.

“It’s a wonderful way to continue to socialize without having to drive anywhere,” Johnson said. 

When Johnson takes all of life and teaching into consideration, she reflects on the value of following your passions.

“I think it’s very important for everyone to find their own path,” Johnson said. “Through the years, I’ve counted a lot of people who feel very compelled to follow a certain path in life that is not in line with their true self.”

For this reason, Johnson likes to see people find their own passion and find the joy and fun in learning. She believes Maryville College is a wonderful place to do exactly that, just one reason she is so happy to be back.

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