Veteran dove headfirst into experiences at CSU

Josh Johnson portrait sitting on a desk in the ASCSU hall
A portrait of Josh Johnson taken by Mary Neiberg.

Josh Johnson, a United States Air Force veteran who recently graduated from Colorado State University’s Department of Psychology, sees opportunities and dives in headfirst.

In every group Johnson joins, he stands out as an earnest, devoted leader. As such, new doors and opportunities open along every path he walks.

“When you first meet Josh, you will notice two things immediately, his contagious smile and endless energy,” said Thomas Hickey, the assistant emergency coordinator at CSU and a friend of Johnson.

As an airman, Johnson was quickly promoted through the ranks to first sergeant. As a student at CSU, he led the nation’s top Student Veterans chapter, served as an ASCSU senator, ran for ASCSU president, competed for the University’s triathlon team, served as vice chair for Rocky Mountain Student Media and on board of governors for the Lory Student Center. As a scientist, he is an agent of change.

“When you combine Josh’s pre-military experience, post-military experience and college experience, you have someone that has the skillset, knowledge, and passion to affect positive change,” said Hickey. “Josh does not settle for status-quo. Just like the field of science is constantly changing and improving, so is Josh.”

CSU is regularly among the best colleges for student veterans and adult learners; Johnson came to CSU for just that reason. In his time here, he managed to near single handedly make the University an even better place for veterans.

Recognized for his deep commitment to the veteran community and to CSU, Johnson now serves as the statewide veteran’s outreach coordinator with the goal to advance collaboration and make Colorado the best destination for Veterans to work, study, and live.

“Josh initially came to CSU because CSU was recognized nationally as an institution that values veterans,” said Hickey, “Josh is motivated to exceed those expectations.”

Picking the best University, then making it even better

Johnson is highly analytical and took the decision to attend a full-time university seriously.

“I had three criteria that the university had to fit. It had to have a psychology program in the top 10% in the nation, a good triathlon team — CSU was number five in the nation — and I wanted a military friendly school,” he said. “CSU was No. 5 in the nation for that as well. I wanted to attend a four-year university, an R1 research institution, and I wanted a school I would be proud of. CSU is the perfect fit.”

ALVSJohnson felt more supported and wanted by CSU than any other university.

“I got the sense we were not just a number,” he said. “We are considered leaders on campus, and they want us for the value we bring.”

Johnson had been a successful supervisor of many airmen in the military, but he wanted to learn the research behind becoming an even better leader, teammate and motivator. This led him to his studies in industrial and organization psychology.

“When Josh had mentioned that he had a degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, I had to look it up,” said Hickey. “When I discovered it was the science of human behavior relating to work-life interface and about improving performance, job satisfaction and overall health and well-being of employees, it now made perfect sense that Josh would pursue that degree.”

Getting involved

Upon arriving at CSU in January 2018, Johnson was inspired by a speech at transfer student orientation, during which he was told that he shouldn’t just dip his toes in the water, he should dive in headfirst.

Johnson attended CSU while still actively working in airfield management. On Fridays, he’d drive to Denver, work two full days, and drive back to Fort Collins for school and extracurriculars on Monday. During his time on campus he dove in and took advantage of every opportunity to serve other veterans.

Johnson became a senator in ASCSU, talking and connecting with student veterans and adult learners, representing their interests at student government, and figuring out policy changes at the university that would improve their experience.

“I got to see the passion in young people arguing and debating about really important topics,” he said. “It was meaningful to connect with traditional students in my time on campus, and it made me a better student and leader. They supported me by listening and voting unanimously on nearly every piece of legislation that I drafted in support of veterans.”

Johnson serving as an ASCSU senator.
Associated Students of Colorado State University Senator for the Adult Learners and Veterans Services Josh Johnson votes to allow unanimous consent to pass bill 4909, Recognizing Veterans on the CSU Campus and the Broader Community, Nov. 13. Johnson also showed thanks to other senators as well as the student body for partaking in the Veterans Day ceremonies put on by the Student Veterans Organization. (Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

From there, Johnson was asked to join Operation Bear Hug as a part of ALVS, the board of governors for the Lory Student Center, and became Vice Chair of Rocky Mountain Student Media.

Wherever Johnson dove in, more opportunity followed.

“Besides having a passion for helping others, he is a triathlete. He is always biking, running or swimming,” said Hickey. “I have yet to discover his energy source.” 

Supporting COVID relief

Johnson graduated from CSU in May 2020 amidst the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic while on a mission with the Air National Guard in Montezuma County, Colorado.

When CSU went fully virtual in March 2020 Johnson was asked to report to the county to aid in their COVID relief and recovery efforts.

In Cortez, Johnson stocked and categorized federally provided PPE as it arrived, aided in food distribution, distributed locally made PPE like hand sanitizer and cloth masks, and created web-based organization forms for the Emergency Manager’s office. He also managed to finish his degree on time.

In true Josh Johnson style, his commitment to and love of community helped him integrate into the Cortez community. The town threw him a graduation party, celebrated him at the county fair, and gave him a sendoff party when it was time to leave.

Sticking with CSU

Johnson serving as an Airman.When Johnson returned to Fort Collins in August 2020 he was asked to aid in CSU’s own PPE distribution, where he developed an efficient system to keep the over 500 hand sanitizing stations on campus stocked.

“It ended up being so efficient that one or two people could do it, instead of the eight student hourly positions they were considering creating,” he said.

Now, Johnson serves as the statewide veteran’s outreach coordinator at CSU. In this role he brings the highly successful value-based model, developed at in the ALVS office, to other universities, institutions, and businesses. The value-based model is strengths-based, opportunity-focused and emphasizes accountability as non-traditional students work to complete their degrees and secure sustainable careers after college.

Johnson hopes to one day work as a consultant, inspiring and uplifting others and continuing to serve veterans.

As of November 2021, he has been re-activated for military service and is currently serving full-time as a First Sergeant in the Air National Guard.

“I truly believe that everyone should have a Josh Johnson in their life,” said Hickey. “To be surrounded by a person that brings out the best of you and the best of others is extraordinary. I am truly blessed to have a friend like Josh Johnson and the world is surely a better place with Josh in it.”

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