The benefits of lifelong learning

Get to know Ingrid Johnson, a DNP graduate from 2017 and one of more than 17,000 Edson College alumni worldwide

March 22, 2022

When Ingrid Johnson was an undergraduate, she wasn’t really sure if she was on the right path. At the time, she was pursuing a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

“I was ambivalent as a BSN student and early on questioned my decision to be a nurse as I wasn't sure I really fit in the box of what a nurse was supposed to be,” Johnson said. Portrait of ASU Edson College alumna Ingrid Johnson. Edson College alumna Ingrid Johnson shares how her degree program propelled her forward in her career and equipped her with the tools necessary to tackle any challenge. Download Full Image

She decided to stay the course, relying on her intuition that as a nurse she’d have a variety of options outside the box. Now, not only is she a nurse, but she’s an advanced practice nurse, having graduated from Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation in 2017 with an advanced nursing practice (innovation leadership) DNP.

“I was able to create my own path and feel that my calling was to support nursing practice and expand the role of the nurse so everyone, everywhere has access to quality nursing care, either at the bedside, specialty care, primary care or advanced practice level. Now I have a job that didn't even exist when I first became a nurse. More education is never bad. I am so pleased I didn't stop learning,” she said.

Johnson is the president and CEO of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. During her time in the DNP Innovation Leadership program, she continued to work full time at the center, though in a different role.

Her DNP project was focused on growing programs for advanced practice registered nurses in rural areas. Johnson’s passion for that work carried over to her day job after graduation.

“I continued to work on that and brought in several million dollars of funding to support building APRNsadvanced practice registered nurses in rural and underserved communities across Colorado," she said. "The United Health Foundation read my initial article on the project in Nursing Administration Quarterly and we have now expanded the project from an FNPfamily nurse practitioner focus to add PMHNPspsychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.”

Even as she was promoted, Johnson remained committed to the program, and in 2021, she was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing on the power of that work.

Below Johnson describes how her time at Edson College propelled her forward in her career and equipped her with the tools necessary to tackle any challenge. 

Question: How did your degree program help you in achieving and maintaining the position you have now? 

Answer: The real reason I sought a doctorate was that I knew education teaches us to think differently and ask different questions. One of the hardest realities for me was identifying that the more I learn, the more aware I am of how much more there is to learn. This degree reminds me of that as I continue to learn new things from my staff and the world around me on a daily basis. It has been humbling and very gratifying. 

As a leader, my job is to help every member of my team be at their best. I believe that achieving this degree has opened my heart to look outside my own ideas and better listen and learn from those around me so we can innovate to support, and in the time of COVID, rebuild our health care and nursing workforce. I didn't have the tools to really do that prior to this degree, but now I often have the right tools, and if I don't have the right tools, I have the resources to figure out what tools I need and how to get them

Q: What is a favorite memory from your time in your program? 

A: Kathy Malloch and Tim Porter-O'Grady taught our first DNP course and we were to focus on innovating. After our first assignment, they pulled no punches and told us to think bigger, more creatively, and get out of our own way. I realized that in my whole career as a nurse and life as a student, we were told to follow the evidence and only do what we were told to do. Nurses follow evidence-based practice, so there was never the space to think outside the box. Now, we were in an innovation leadership program and we were not only permitted to think outside the box, but we were also expected to do so and seek the evidence to support it. 

It was scary, because over the years, I had been slapped down for not fitting the mold or for thinking of alternative ideas. When they told us that our job was to stop being a linear thinker and to find evidence around other less obvious solutions, it was incredibly freeing. I think we are born creative, and in an effort to learn evidence-based care and practice, we lose that, and often we are not permitted to find that side of ourselves again. 

This program helped me seek and find that side of myself that had been lost for so long. Now I can balance the desire to seek alternative solutions and see if there is any evidence to support those solutions, so I know we can be both evidence-based and non-linear in our problem-solving.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are currently enrolled in the program? 

A: Enjoy the process and embrace the reality that for the rest of your life, you will have more questions than answers ... and that is OK. Stay curious. Remember that when you get feedback that doesn't feel warranted, listen for what is true in the feedback. It can be your greatest gift. Even if only 2% of the negative feedback is correct, it may be exactly what you need. If you knew everything and did everything perfectly the first time out, you wouldn't need to be there.

Q: What were some unique challenges, if any, you had to overcome while pursuing this degree? 

A: I kept a full-time job throughout my education, and fitting in a job, parenting and school were very challenging. One day, my youngest approached me and said, "Mom, we never see your eyes anymore. You are always studying or working." It knocked me off my feet and I realized I needed to figure out some different habits so I wouldn't miss my kids’ lives. 

Also, my master's degree is in public policy, not nursing. So I had to revisit some foundational nursing courses, like nursing theory. It was initially a little frustrating, but then I realized that nursing theory is much more interesting to me now than it was in my BSN program. Again, I needed to open my heart and embrace the art and science of nursing. I didn't even know I had lost that side of my practice until I started this program.

To learn more about Edson College alumni activities, events and programming visit the alumni section of the college's website.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


Stanlie James on rights for women, people of color and her journey to higher education

Former vice provost to speak at School of Social Transformation webinar March 30

March 22, 2022

Stanlie James, a professor emeritus and former vice provost of inclusion and community engagement at Arizona State University, is a lifelong learner and advocate for women’s and Black issues in the U.S. and beyond. 

In preparation for the March 30 webinar "Black Women in Higher Education: A Conversation with Stanlie James," the School of Social Transformation sat down with James to talk about her career milestones, academic passions, research and more. Portrait of Stanlie James, the keynote speaker for the ASU School of Social Transformation's webinar "Black Women in Higher Education." Stanlie James, professor emeritus and former vice provost of inclusion and community engagement, was the third generation to attend college in her family. "I've mentioned that because people are a little shocked to hear that," she said. "Sometimes assumptions are made about who is a first-generation college student." Download Full Image

Question: Can you please introduce yourself?

Answer: I’m Dr. Stanlie James, I’m a professor and for the last four years of my career, I was vice provost for inclusion and community engagement at ASU. On a personal note, I'm from Des Moines, Iowa, and I'm a fourth-generation Black Iowan, which is unusual. There are fourth-generation Iowans, but they're much younger … very few are my age. Other than that, I'm the third generation to have gone to college in my family.

Q: That’s a great accomplishment.

A: Both of my parents graduated from the University of Iowa: my mother with a bachelor’s degree there and my father received his DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). My maternal grandmother attended UI as well. I've mentioned that because people are a little shocked to hear that. Sometimes assumptions are made about who is a first-generation college student.

Q: Where’d you go to school?

A: I did not go to the University of Iowa because by the time I graduated from high school, I was ready to leave Iowa. I attended what was then considered the “best high school” in the state. Iowa was "integrated" throughout the 20th century and even before. We didn't have a large population of Black people, so we did not have segregated public schools or segregated public accommodations. The high school that I attended only had 12 Blacks out of several thousand students, so, in a way, we were integrating that school, and it was not always a comfortable situation.

Anyway, I left Iowa and went to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, which is one of only two Black women’s colleges in the country. It was a member of the Atlanta University Center, which was comprised of six Black colleges, or HBCUsHistorically Black colleges and universities, as we now call them. I majored in sociology and history. There was open enrollment across all those campuses for the students. While I was there, I encountered Professor Anna Grant at Morehouse College. … She was a very tough teacher.

Q: A lot of work, I'm guessing?

A: I took her “Black Families” class. We were assigned to read every important book available on Black families at the time. We had to write papers on every single one of them, and then we had to write a final paper. I didn't realize we had to write a paper on all the books until near the end. I missed the first day of class … so now I tell my students never to miss the first day of class because you might miss some very important information about the class!

Q: Sounds like you learned a lot from that experience.

A:  Yes. I nearly had a nervous breakdown, but I finally completed all the work for that class, and when the grades came out — I received the only A!

Q: That’s motivating after all of that work.

A: It certainly was. After that, she wanted to see me, so I went to her office and she sat me down and asked me, "What do you want to do with your life?" I said, "Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'll be a teacher or social worker or something like that." That's what women did in those days. She said, "Oh no, that's a waste of your talent." She told me that I needed to be a college professor.

Q: So that moment changed your whole trajectory?

A: Absolutely. Even though she was a Black woman college professor, it did not occur to me that this was something that I might consider. And I didn't even know how you did it. I was in shock, and I had to go home and mull over whether or not that was a possibility. It opened up a new way of looking at things. I went on to apply for the junior year abroad scholarship offered at Spelman College. I decided that I wanted to attend Makerere University in Uganda. I applied, but they did not respond in a timely fashion. And when I finally did hear from them that summer, my application was rejected because they did not accept American undergraduate students. By then, of course, it was too late to apply elsewhere.

Q: That’s so frustrating.

A: I thought, "Well, now what? I'm too late to apply to go someplace else to do this year abroad." But the scholarship was funded by the man who at that time was the president of the Spelman board of trustees. One of my classmates told he that he was a friend of her parents, and she encouraged me to write him a letter, explain my situation and ask if he might help me. So, I sent him a message and he told me to make an appointment to meet with him when he was in town for the next board of trustees meeting. I made the appointment, and we took a 15-minute walk around Spelman's campus as I told him what happened to me. He understood and agreed to give me the money for graduate study instead. So, that is how after I graduated from Spelman, I was able to go to the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London to get my first master's degree.

Q: Some good news!

A: It was. The educational system is different. We chose three areas of concentration and took the same seminars across the three (what we would call) trimesters. One of my areas was social change in sub-Saharan Africa, and another one was in religions of sub-Saharan Africa. We took only one exam for each seminar at the end of the year. Exams were given in certain rooms throughout the University of London system, and the exam proctors were dressed in academic regalia. It was all quite formal. And by the way, if you missed that exam, regardless of the reason, you either had to retake it the following year (at the same time) or if they allowed you to graduate, your diploma would say that you had not taken the exam! The exams were then sent to readers who could be anywhere in the Commonwealth, so it took a while before you were formally informed about whether or not you passed.

After I wrote my master's thesis and got my degree, I came back to the states and was trying to figure out what to do. I got a job working at Central State University, which is an HBCU in Ohio. I taught there in the sociology department for four years and then married and went back to Iowa. We lived in Iowa for a while, and I had my daughter but the marriage did not last … so I was trying to figure out what to do. By that time, I was teaching in the community college in Des Moines, and I knew I did not want to do that for the rest of my life.

Q: Then what happened?

A: I met a man who was a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and he became my mentor. He encouraged me to think about going back to get my PhD and becoming a college professor. We decided that the University of Denver had the program that I wanted. I applied to what was then called the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) but is now known as the Korbel School for International Studies. That’s where I got a second master's degree and my PhD.

Q: During your education and career journey, what’s something that surprised you or changed your perspective on life?

A: There are so many things. One is about being in England in the early '70s; there was an Africa Center there. I had an opportunity to meet so many Africans from all over the continent, as political colonialism was ending. I'm saying that specifically because we continue with what I would call “economic colonialism” to this day. But back then, countries were attaining their freedom and setting up their governments. So many of the Africans I was meeting at the time were from different countries around the continent. And because they were being educated, I knew they were returning to their country to be involved in establishing their country after colonialism. It was really exciting to get to know those people. It’s like they had a mission. They were getting their education, but it wasn’t so much about, “Oh, I’m going to stay in England and make a lot of money, or I’m going to go to America and make a lot of money.” It was, “How can I take this knowledge back to help my country?"

At the same time, England was going through a period where racism was becoming quite prevalent and quite open, but the racism was focused on Asians and particularly East Indians. It was at this time that Uganda was expelling all Asians from their country, and those people that they expelled held British passports and could legally immigrate to England. There was just so much hatred against these people. Since I grew up in the United States, I was quite familiar with racism, but somehow we had always been taught to believe that Europe was where you could escape racism. So, to go to England and discover that that wasn’t the case was eye-opening. It was a rude awakening to learn that racism was (and continues to be) an international phenomenon.

Q: Can you tell us about your book, "Practical Audacity: Black Women and International Human Rights"?

A: All of my books have been labors of love, but this is the first one that I've written as sole authorship. The others were anthologies, and while they were very important and did important things, this is the book that I have been working on for decades. It is the culmination of all of my work. One of the areas of concentration for my PhD was international human rights, and that's important because most people who were involved in this field of study were studying it in law schools. Yet, I was not in a law school but I got a PhD with a concentration in it. With this book, I wanted to bring human rights out of law school and make them available to everybody. Because unless you are in law school or you're involved in the United Nations, you may or may not know anything about it. Also, I have always worked on Black and women’s issues. So "Practical Audacity" is a culmination of my research in all those areas.

I was aware that in the past, there were Black women who had decided to pursue work in international human rights. Now, we spent the latter part of the 20th century unearthing the work that Black women have done in the American civil rights movement. Some women had come to the conclusion that civil rights could not adequately address their experiences of multiple oppression. They sought something beyond civil rights. As they became cognizant of the field of international human rights, they considered pursuing their agendas in this more comprehensive field.

What I wanted to do with this book was to identify some of those women. I wanted to share their stories through this book because women are doing important and unsung work that we need to know about. I'm trying to present these untold stories to inspire people to figure out what they can do to support international human rights work, to make a difference in the world.

Q: What are some of the social problems that you're concerned about? Why do you think that these problems are important to address?

A: I call them the “family of -isms”: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia and ableism. Those things are all deeply intertwined. They're all intersectional. They all have had an impact on the way that we are able to live our lives and what we're able to do. It's important for us to understand them, but also to figure out how we can effectively counteract those -isms. And the interesting thing is that they shape-shift: You think you may have solved the problem, and then it comes back differently.

Q: What you just said about the “-isms” — that’s brilliant. Why do you think that these problems exist at their core?

A: I thought about that a lot because the problem seems illogical and stupid. You can say all kinds of negative things, but I think it's fear. At the very bottom, it is fear of the unknown. It's fear and it's an effort to figure out how one can be important, or how one can be better than someone else.

Similarly, I was recently listening to Robin Kelley — a very important historian. He observed that we talk about capitalism and we talk about racism, but separately. He argues that racism is an integral part of capitalism. He says that there is no capitalism without racism. Racism feeds capitalism. So we had slavery, which fed capitalism, then we abolished slavery but proceeded to establish Jim Crow to replace it. But what was important, at least if we’re talking about this only as a Black-and-white issue, is that it’s also applicable to other groups of people of color. The specific history varies, but the main point is that all forms of racism have fed capitalism, so to speak.

Q: Can you tell us a few of the topics that you'll be covering during the "Black Women in Higher Education" talk March 30?

A: We will be discussing women of color — and particularly Black women — in higher education. Many people are pursuing higher education, but I want to discuss the fact that just because you get a PhD doesn't mean that you're going to become a professor or that you're going to remain in education. And part of that is because pursuing a PhD is a difficult process under the best of circumstances. Then when you mix in sexism and racism, sometimes people decide, "OK, I've had enough of this, and I'm not going to subject myself to the tenure process." So they choose to do something else with their education.

I also want to touch on one of the things that I see that is so important. … It is the fact that we have attained degrees in a wide array of areas. For example, before, we could only be an educator in sociology or history or English. But now, you have people in astronomical sciences, mathematics or engineering. Black people are doing those kinds of things — that's exciting.

Q: Given how difficult pursuing higher education can be, what’s your advice for students, whether they're an undergrad or grad, in the School of Social Transformation or any other school at ASU?

A: I tell people that you are going to meet challenges. I don't know how to say this because I don't want to denigrate people who don't reach success, but ultimately, if you are going to make it, you have to overcome setbacks. And those setbacks can be a lot of things. Maybe you pass your tests, but you struggle with your dissertation — maybe it's not approved, etc. We all have our struggles and hurdles to overcome. We may not talk about it, but sometimes I think we should, because the capacity to meet adversity and move beyond it is what it takes to survive and ultimately to thrive.

"Black Women in Higher Education: A Conversation with Stanlie James" will be held via Zoom at 6 p.m. on March 30. Register here or visit the ASU Events listing for more information.

Communication and Marketing Coordinator, School of Social Transformation