Dr. Ben Johnson to Retire as President of Peru State College
(Peru, Neb.) Nebraska State College System (NSCS) Chancellor Stan Carpenter announced that the President of Peru State College, Dr. Ben Johnson, is retiring after nearly a decade. Following his retirement from the presidency, which is effective Friday, Aug. 15, Johnson will become the first NSCS online professor of interdisciplinary studies.
Johnson said, “I am proud of the incredible strides this ‘little college that could’ has made throughout the past nine years, and I consider it a privilege to have been a part of its renaissance. To say that my time at Peru State has been the highlight of my professional career is an understatement. I leave the college having gained wonderful friends and colleagues, and knowing that my work as president is done. It’s time to start another chapter not only in my life, but in this institution’s rich 140-year history.”
An author and noted expert on the science of learning, Johnson came to Peru State in 1999 in the midst of what was a difficult time for the college. His arrival ushered in a new era of unprecedented success for the college.
Carpenter said, “Ben Johnson led Peru State College through a significant transformation. Through his leadership, enrollment increased both on-campus and online and Peru became a vital and vibrant institution. Ben’s creativity and energy were just what the doctor ordered in 1999 when he assumed the presidency of Peru State. He has been a valued colleague and I am very pleased he will remain closely committed to the college and the system as an online professor.”
Johnson is credited with nearly doubling enrollment at the institution during the last nine years, moving it from around 1,300 students to an historic high of more than 2,300 today. The college’s success has been directly attributed to Johnson’s efforts to pioneer online learning in Nebraska, enhance technology in the classroom, implement a unique and flexible class schedule, invest more than $35 million in renovations and repairs of campus facilities, and create new and innovative programs.
NSCS Board of Trustees Chair Bill Roskens said, “I’ve enjoyed watching Peru State College progress under Ben’s tutelage. The college is primed to continue to make major leaps forward as a result of Ben’s efforts.”
Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Todd Drew said, “President Johnson arrived on campus during a tumultuous and uncertain time. Fortunately, he was the one person in 10,000 who had the entrepreneurial spirit and vision we needed to set this college back on the right course. He worked tirelessly to obtain funding for renovation projects. He worked with local governments to strengthen and build support for the college, and with the faculty and college administrators to initiate new programs. He has left a legacy that will benefit this college for another 140 years.”
The college’s longest serving faculty member (40 years) Dr. Daryl Long, professor of science, said, “We completely turned the corner when Dr. Johnson came to Peru. The whole southeast Nebraska community was split apart, but he helped unite the area, improve the campus appearance and enhance academic programs. He had new ideas and a lot of energy. It really made a difference.”
Johnson undertook a variety of projects to strengthen the college, including creating the Academic Resource Center, which brought together several student services programs that had operated independently of one another and were scattered across campus. He was also instrumental in getting the campus designated as an arboretum.
Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to initiate the “High School to College Transition Program.” Likely the first of its kind in the country, the 18-month initiative assisted all juniors from Prague, Rising City and Shickley in becoming more academically and socially prepared for collegiate success. The program offered students a four-year tuition waiver funded through private sources, the PSC Foundation and tuition remission programs. Johnson devised the program because he has been concerned about the shrinking resources of small, rural high schools throughout Nebraska for several years. Although there was financial support for only one group of students, Johnson has worked tirelessly to get additional funding through Congress.
Johnson also worked with the PSC Foundation to help raise money for scholarships and academic programs - an example of which were the Selective Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (SEED) scholarships. The scholarships were given to 10 students who enrolled in the college’s new master’s degree in organizational management with two areas of emphasis: economic development and entrepreneurship. The ultimate goal of the SEED scholarships is to have those students put their degrees to work in rural Nebraska.
In 2007, Johnson was honored with the Carl Albin and Alvi Linnea Spader Distinguished Leadership Award, which is presented by the Nebraska LEAD Program. The award “recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in visible statewide roles and whose broad vision, pursuit of excellence and strong leadership qualities serve as a constant role model for others.”
The NSCS Board of Trustees will conduct a national search for a new president this summer. Chancellor Carpenter will serve as president of Peru State until a successor has been selected.