Editor’s Note: Earlier versions of this article appeared in our print magazine, Accolades, and online.
Want to see positivity personified? Meet recent graduate Tiffany Johnson. Nothing stops her.
When Johnson was a senior in high school, her father died from cancer. “I only had two months to process his illness, from the time he was diagnosed until he died,” she recalled. “We were very close. He was my motivator, the one saying, ‘You got this.’ He lit up a room when he walked in. I always wanted to be like him.”
That kind of loss would be enough to upend many teenagers’ plans. But not for Johnson.
That same year, she had participated in NC State’s Gen. H. Hugh Shelton Challenge, a week-long program designed to build leadership skills among high school students.
“That sealed the deal for me. I knew I wanted to come to NC State,” she said. “Everyone there wanted to see me grow as a leader and to become a better person.”
Her mom, another positive influence in her life, encouraged her to leave Charlotte and come to NC State. “I thought maybe I should stay close to home so she wouldn’t be on her own,” Johnson said. “My brother was already away at college. But my mom said, ‘You need to follow your dreams.’ So I came to State.”
She came determined to graduate in four years. During her freshman year, she added communication as a second major to her political science studies. She was active in clubs and she took on internships even as she continued her involvement with the Shelton Leadership Center.
Despite all her challenges and responsibilities, Johnson graduated magna cum laude in May 2015, meeting her self-imposed goal of doing it in four years.
Along the way, Johnson won two separate scholarships. She credits the donors who funded the awards as keys to her success. “They helped make it possible for me to reach my goals,” she said.
The Robert J. Pleasants Scholarship, given to students majoring in political science with a concentration in law and justice, had a powerful effect on Johnson. “It wasn’t just the money — which was definitely wonderful,” she said. “I was so pleased to be able to meet the family, and I felt so thankful that someone believed in me enough to want to play a role in helping me achieve my dreams.”
She was also the inaugural recipient of the Gen. Hugh Shelton/Kimberly Jessup Scholarship. The scholarship was named in part for 2003 communication alumna Kimberly Jessup, who had a successful career as a publicist for ESPN and NASCAR, among other companies, before her untimely death.
Johnson recalled what a privilege it was to meet Jessup’s family. “They told me about their daughter, her positive attitude and her approach to life,” Johnson said. “When I learned about her legacy, I took such pride in representing her name.”
Johnson said she was well aware of the privileges afforded her through her scholarships, especially during her senior year. “Some students aren’t able to have internships or to volunteer — not because they don’t want to, but because they are obligated to work and pay bills to earn their degree,” she said. “My scholarships helped me have fewer worries and more time to become involved on campus in organizations that could prepare me for my career path. I could take an unpaid internship and get a glimpse of what my future could hold.”
Johnson’s father was the first in his family to go to college. “He was always telling me to push myself, to reach my goals. And that he believed in me,” she said. “My scholarship donors gave me the same message.”
She dreams of one day establishing a foundation that would create scholarships at NC State for communication and political science students. “I’d like to pay it forward, to make it possible for students to reach their goals, just like people did for me,” she said.
Knowing how unstoppable Johnson is, it’s just a matter of time.
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Dean’s Scholars Dream Big
Our seven newest Dean’s Scholars — aspiring osteoarchaeologists, federal prosecutors and museum curators — have big plans for the future. Thanks to contributions from college donors, the freshman merit scholars can also plan on being experiential learners.
The college’s Dean’s Scholars program has expanded from a $1,000 freshman merit award to $4,000 — $2,000 for freshman year tuition and $2,000 for experiential education during junior or senior year.
“By increasing the award and expanding its purpose, we’re helping some of our outstanding students pay for their education and also study abroad, conduct research or explore their entrepreneurial goals,” said Dean Jeff Braden.
English major Cate Rivers says her award provides more than validation and encouragement; it also makes her dream to study abroad more feasible.
Psychology student Marissa Brinkman is fascinated by the human mind and patterns of behavior. Her award will help her conduct specialized research.
Jessica Kronz, studying anthropology and bioarchaeology, wants to interpret messages encoded in skeletons. Her award will help with study abroad. She hopes eventually to lend her expertise to archaeological teams around the world.
To learn more about the college’s scholarships, visit go.ncsu.edu/CHASSscholarships.