Fulfilling the Dream-Former Merchant Marine starting second chapter in life at UACCB
Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville would like to highlight some of its outstanding students and their successes. This is the second in a four-part series.
Unlike many of his classmates who are just embarking on their life journeys, Roger Johnson is beginning his second chapter in life at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.
Born in Detroit and raised in upstate New York, Johnson moved to Alabama after high school, which was admittedly a bit of a culture shock. “I’m a yankee,” Johnson said laughing, “so it was a hard transition.”
Life after high school was turbulent and brought several moves between his northern home and southern states before Johnson learned about becoming a Merchant Marine with the United States Coast Guard. By his early 20’s, Johnson had achieved the rank of captain. “That career was a journey. I started at the very bottom as a galley hand. Then I was a deck hand and then an engineer before I became a captain,” he said.
In order to achieve his license as a Merchant Marine Officer, Johnson completed extensive training and education. He earned certifications from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System at the Young Memorial Campus and at L.E. Fletcher Technical Community College in Houma, La. Johnson’s training encompassed everything from survival techniques to fire safety to mechanics and engineering. He received his license in October 2007 and spent over 16 years as a Merchant Marine Officer.
During his time as a Merchant Marine, Johnson lived in over 11 different states ranging from Hudson, New York to Galveston, Texas, which was his final port. “I gave it up because I got tired of being away from my family. I had kids, and I didn’t get to see them grow up,” he said.
Johnson’s path carried him to Tampa, Fla. where he took a position as project manager with Orthotic & Prosthetic Centers, Inc. As such, Johnson assisted with the accrediting and opening of new centers. “When I started, there were 15 centers. When I left, we had 27 centers with offices in both Carolinas, and all throughout Florida. That was a fun job, and I loved it. I met a lot of nice people and gained a lot of knowledge,” Johnson said.
He added that his time with OPC taught him the empathy and compassion necessary for working in a medical field. “You’re in a field to take of others. If you don’t come with compassion and empathy for others, you’re not going to make it. I’ve been able to work with veterans and diabetic patients, elderly and youth, who have lost a limb. It makes you think, ‘They have it a lot worse than me. Why am I complaining about the little things in life?’”
A medical need would bring Johnson to Arkansas. He moved to the state to help his mother and stepfather after his mother had a stroke. His stepfather is also in remission after battling cancer. As he became a caregiver for his family, Johnson decided a career in the medical field was going to be his next step in life. “I’ve been surrounded by it my whole life. My mother worked in the medical field. Working at OPC, I was constantly working with patients, doctors, and nurses. I decided the first chance I got, I was going to get into a nursing program. I decided to come to Batesville because they have a good program here. I like it here. I don’t feel like I’m caught up in the rat race,” he said.
Johnson is currently working on his pre-requisite courses in order to be able to apply to the practical nursing program at UACCB.
Johnson said being a student again at this point in his life is a completely different world from the first time he was a student. Now, he sees an opportunity to be a mentor to his younger classmates. “It’s different now, because you hear about their life experiences and what they are going through, and you see yourself there when you were younger. It’s enlightening. You want to mentor them, and let them know they have options,” he said.