Dr. Caitlin Johnson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Minnesota State University Moorhead

Written by: Brady Drake

Tell us about yourself.

I’m the proud mom of an amazing 11-year-old boy named Sage. We’re both enrolled members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. I’m a new faculty member in my first year at MSUM in Educational Leadership, but I am a former English Teacher with the Fargo School District. I have a total of four degrees (B.S. English; M.P.M. business project management; M.Ed. curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and Ph.D. adult and community education). I’m an NDSU and UMARY alumni but am now a proud MSUM Dragon.

It’s my first year at MSUM, but I started in education as a student mentor and tutor when I was 16 on my home reservation. I worked with elementary and middle school students, taught as an adjunct instructor at the tribal college then transitioned to teaching high school. Over a decade later, I’m now an instructor in graduate school. I have had the privilege to work with almost every grade/education level. I think it’s Dr. Caitlin Johnson part of why I fell in love with the field.

My teaching experience has primarily been in English instruction. Literacy is such an important life skill that impacts so many different people and I can have an impact on people developing those skills. There’s power in stories, which is really what made me enjoy teaching reading and writing. Every student has a story, it’s part of my job to learn what their story is to best support them.

Who are some people who have been influential in your journey and why?

My family. I’ve been fortunate to have amazing parents who supported me and my alternative pathway to education. They also encourage me to learn and explore my culture, which has had a huge impact on my identity. My brother was the first person in my family to pursue an alternative pathway to his diploma and I followed in his footsteps. My son was my compass on this journey pointing me toward my goals. He was a huge motivator for me.

What drives you?

My son, Sage, drives me every day. I always tell him that I wish I could see myself through his eyes because he believes in me at times when I feel like I might not. He’s always reminding me why I push myself because I am capable. He makes me the person that I want to be and reminds me that I’m not just working for myself. I’m working for him too. My successes are his successes.

What are some important lessons you have learned in your lifetime?

Mistakes are inevitable—learn from them. We are human and we’re not perfect. Letting people know that it’s okay to make mistakes helps by showing that we can learn from those situations [and helps promote a] growth mindset. Another valuable lesson that I have learned is that it’s okay to not be okay and to ask for help. Support systems matter and finding one that provides you support in the ways that you need is invaluable. I wouldn’t be here today without the amazing support system that has supported me throughout my journey.

What are some of your favorite things to do in our community?

I love attending powwows and indigenous art fairs. I also love anything family-friendly that I can do with my son. We both love golfing and I have a soft spot in my heart for Special Olympics Golf. Monster hunting with Fargo Parks & Rec this summer was a highlight. My son and I also really love exploring new restaurants in the area. We are total foodies and love discovering new foods we love together.

What is your dream job and why?

My dream job was to always teach teachers. I knew when I started my doctoral program that I wanted to have an influence on education. I’m an alternative education graduate and non-traditional student. I am a prime example of a student who needed specific support in school to be successful. I wanted to help the next generation of students by instructing teachers how to better support students like me. I’m fortunate to be living my dream. My next step is to earn tenure.

Do you have any book or podcast recommendations for our readers?

I was part of the National Writing Project’s podcast “The Write Time” a couple of years ago and it was the first time that I really saw myself as a teacher leader with a voice. I was able to see myself in action, and I was able to learn from one of my favorite Native American authors (Joseph Bruchac). I will always recommend that podcast because it showcases so many amazing authors and books

What are you hoping to gain from the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program?

Confidence in my own leadership abilities and a network of new friends who are some amazing women in our community.

What do you think can be improved in our business community?

I would love to see more nonprofit partnerships in our business community. I absolutely love when I see businesses partner with nonprofits to host different events in our area. It gives back to the community in so many different ways and is an amazing way to spread awareness of some great nonprofits in our area as well.

What are some of your passions outside of work?

One of my passions is autism awareness. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, I have met some amazing people who are truly making a difference in the lives of others, and I love educating people alongside my son who recently started sharing his journey about what it’s like to live with autism to pre-service teachers. I learn so much from him every day and I appreciate having the opportunity to watch him grow to be his own advocate. It’s a form of education outside of the traditional classroom for me and I love every minute of it.

Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of Fargo INC! magazine?

One of my favorite things about living in the FM area is the diversity and we’re fortunate to have some amazing people of various backgrounds who are truly making a difference in our community— the wonderful ladies in this program with me are a prime example.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.