Emily Johnson '12 tests her bowling skills against those of her best buddy, Kayla Hatch, 19, of Keizer.
Johnson '12 takes a break from bowling to joke with two members of the campus-based Best Buddies program.
A chemistry major, Johnson '12 aspires to attend medical school after graduating this spring.
Civic-minded student combats stereotypes by revamping campus outreach program
He taught her the power of a smile, the value of diversity and the importance of small victories. He also taught her to question first impressions.
“I’m good at taking a step back and not letting them influence me too much,” says Johnson, whose 24-year-old brother has Down syndrome. “Everyone has difficulties. Everyone has challenges. You can learn so much by people and what they bring to the table.”
That’s why Johnson is committed to showcasing what people of all abilities can accomplish. And at Willamette University, she made her mark by reinventing the Best Buddies outreach program.
“I’ve always done a lot of work with kids with developmental disabilities,” says Johnson, noting her involvement with the Special Olympics. “Best Buddies is an extension of that work. It’s something I always wanted to continue in college.”
Giving BackA Denver native, Johnson enrolled at Willamette because of its small class sizes, involved faculty and reputation for academic excellence. She also appreciated the university’s commitment to community service, which is a focus of her own life.
Besides volunteering in the emergency room at Salem Hospital, Johnson has worked as a community service learning coordinator on campus. Through her role, she’s managed awareness activities centered on hunger, homelessness, poverty and access to health services and education.
She also joined the Best Buddies program as a freshman, only to reinvent it the following year. Now, instead of playing bingo with senior citizens, club members are paired with people their own age through the Willamette Valley Down Syndrome Association.
During scheduled activities each month, students and their buddies bowl, play games and make crafts — forming lasting friendships in the process. Under Johnson’s leadership, the club has grown from four to 20 students in the past two years.
Laura Clerc, who formerly directed Willamette’s Community Outreach Program, supervised Johnson’s efforts. She says Johnson’s initiative, leadership and commitment to community service is unparalleled.
“Her genuine and intense passion for engaging in community service and advocating for and empowering individuals with disabilities truly distinguishes her from her peers,” Clerc says. “Emily is a dedicated team player, and she is highly motivated in all that she does.”
Medical AmbitionsIn addition to volunteering, Johnson plays oboe for the University Chamber Orchestra and Salem Chamber Orchestra. She’s a chemistry major with a 3.8 grade point average, and she served as a Webber Scholar last year. Through the Willamette-based program, Johnson was one of a select group of female university students who helped mentor and promote the sciences to girls at Highland Elementary School.
With graduation approaching, Johnson’s next step is enrolling in medical school. She’s interviewing at prospective sites across the nation and is most interested in pursuing a career in cystic fibrosis research or developmental pediatrics — options endorsed by Chemistry Professor Chuck Williamson.
“She has always been an excellent student,” says Williamson, Johnson’s academic advisor. “She may be quiet in class, but she’s had a plan since she got here about what she wanted to do, and she worked to achieve it.”
Johnson, too, is optimistic about the future. Although there are many unknowns, she’s determined to work with children and make a difference in their lives.
“My brother has really impacted who I am,” says Johnson about her motivation. “I’d love other people to see what he and his friends have to offer.”