Unsung Hero: Michelle Johnston

Melissa NuñezOpinions and Features Editor

Michelle Johnston, director of alumni relations, said before her start at Southern ten years ago, oftentimes students and the alumni office would not cross paths, but she saw what a difference it could make for future alumni if they were included in the process long before they accepted their diplomas: that the chance to build connections with Southern alumni across the country does not begin when they graduate, but from the moment they decide they are going to be an owl.

Johnston said Southern alumni first reach out to students even before they are accepted into the university, by writing postcards to prospective students. When students come to the university, they then have the opportunity to build connections through Alumni Night, where they are matched with a Southern alum in their desired field as a mentor.

Johnston said Southern’s award winning A to G alumni program does not stop there. She said there are Southern alumni all over the country, so wherever students go after graduation, whether it is Boston, Massachusetts or Manchester, Connecticut, there is a Southern graduate with a possible job connection just waiting to help.

Overall, Johnston said the program has won eight awards in the past four years: two gold, two silver, and four bronze excellence awards. The A to G program alone has won a gold award in alumni programs and a silver award in best practices.

Johnston added her commitment to helping students reaches far beyond academics, but with their overall wellbeing. She said when she heard on the radio of a California university opening a food closet for students in need, she wondered about her students in New Haven. When she asked around campus she was shocked to hear some of her own were going to classes struggling with the impossible choice of whether to fill up their gas tank or to buy themselves a meal. After she saw that there was a great need, Johnston said that she began the work to offer a food pantry on our own campus.

After beginning the lengthy application process, Johnston said the Storehouse Project, a Milford based food pantry, heard of what was going on and reached out to offer their services.

The pantry meets every second Wednesday at 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. by the entrance of the Wintergreen parking garage. The process is completely anonymous, so students who have questions or concerns can contact the Storehouse Project directly and no one from the university has to know. Students who are interested can come to the next pantry Nov. 9 or again on Nov. 15.

After Johnston’s day as the alumni relations director is through, she said she enjoys the theater and creating costumes on her free time. Most recently, she said she played Ursula in the “The Little Mermaid” and created costumes for most of the 70 person cast, with the exception of the mer sisters and Sebastian. She said the work lasted 10 weekends, with 15 hour days to make sure the costumes were completed for their debut.

Johnston said she has starred as characters like Miss Hannigan in Annie and Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins and would like to try her hand at different roles in more comedy or drama themed musicals.

Overall, Johnston said she loves her role on campus and that for the past ten years she has happily come to Southern knowing she is bridging the gap between Southern grads and students.

“My youngest son always said to me since the fifth grade, a man who does what he likes never works a day,” said Johnston. “That’s the way I feel about this job. That I come to work everyday happy because I love what I do.”

Photo Credit: Michelle Johnston

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