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Nov. 21, 2008

Greta Johnson

Regent Greta Johnson's on-the-job training began at the regents' Oct. 29 meeting in Iowa State's Memorial Union. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Meet Regent Johnson

by Anne Krapfl

One out of 70,325. Iowa State junior Greta Johnson beat those odds to land the lone student seat on the state Board of Regents this fall. So one might assume she has "Overachiever" tattooed on her left bicep.

Johnson actually turns out to be the kind of student you'd like to see in the role of student regent. Humbly, she's quick to point out that the law and a few circumstances greatly improved her odds. State code requires that not more than five of the nine regents be of the same political party, and it was ISU's turn in the rotation among the three regent universities from which the student regent is selected. So, Gov. Chet Culver needed to find a Cyclone who was not a Democrat. And, due to the demographics of the other eight regents, Culver hoped to appoint a female who hailed from the western part of the state. At the governor's request, president Gregory Geoffroy forwarded four students' names to Des Moines. The governor's staff completed phone interviews with the four, and Culver announced Johnson as the next student regent on Oct. 3.

Technically, she'll complete the last seven months of the unexpired term of former student regent Jenny Connolly from the University of Northern Iowa. But, the expectation is that when it convenes in January, the Iowa Senate will approve Johnson's board appointment to spring 2011 -- one year beyond her anticipated graduation from Iowa State in political science.

I can do that

"I'm excited about this," Johnson said of her appointment. "You don't know what college will hold for you. I expected to stay busy, but I never planned on being a regent."

Like her years at LeMars Community High School, Johnson's first two-plus college years have been full. She was a member of the President's Leadership Class as a freshman and an adviser to it as a sophomore. She served as secretary of Freshman Council. She is a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, the same sorority that groomed former Government of the Student Body presidents Sophia Magill (2004-05) and Angela Groh (2005-06); and currently serves as vice president of operations on that group's executive council. She plays oboe in the ISU Wind Ensemble, the university's top concert band. She serves on the ISU Foundation's student committee and last year on the student affairs advisory council. She is involved in Veishea and the Dance Marathon philanthropy, and was serving as GSB's director of government relations this year until the regent's appointment arrived, creating a conflict of interest.

Her campus jobs include serving as an intern in the Catt Center for Women and Politics and as a Cyclone Aide for new student summer orientation programs.

"When I talk to my mom on the phone, she'll ask, 'You still go to class, right?'" Johnson said, laughing.

Busy is a relative term

Her spot on the board of regents actually forced her to set priorities and eliminate a few activities, she said. The difference was noticeable within weeks.

"As far as weekly meetings go, this is the least busy I've been since I started college," she said.

She expects her regent duties to require more of her time in the months ahead.

"There's a lot to take in, a lot to read, a lot to learn," she said. "I have a pretty broad range of experiences at Iowa State, so I feel like I bring a good perspective to this."

She knows the student leaders at the regent universities, has friends at all three schools and expects Connolly will be a good resource for her on representing the student perspective in board discussions.

And as her record proves, she's not afraid of a new challenge or a little hard work. The bottom line for her is, "I'm sitting at a table with very accomplished people with remarkable careers. This is an opportunity you can't pass up."

An organizer at heart

Johnson said her interest in political science goes back to about eighth grade. Prior to that, she thought she might be a teacher -- like her mom and her sister. She served as a page during part of the 2006 Iowa legislative session, and quickly found the Catt Center when she arrived at Iowa State. She helped organize a caucus education workshop for students last fall and debate watches this fall, and worked on the center's "Women Impacting ISU" calendar project.

Her "dream job," she said, would involve politics, organizing and working with people. Does that suggest she's preparing for a career on campaign staffs -- or perhaps running for public office herself?

"Maybe down the road. I don't have any plans like that now," she said. In fact, she thinks her first job could take her back about 10 years -- to teaching. She's looking into the Teach For America program, which Johnson described as a "domestic Peace Corps for our generation."

Teach For America hires and trains college graduates for multi-year commitments to teach in schools, for example, in inner cities or on Indian reservations, that lack resources. The program's goal is to eliminate the inequity in education and improve the prospects for children born into low-economic families and neighborhoods.

Johnson said that because teaching always has been a career option, Teach for America is appealing.

"And, I see the problems facing the country and view this opportunity as one way I can make a direct difference in people's lives," she said. "Joining TFA is no small task and I know that if I had the opportunity to participate in the program, it would help build my real life experience that could carry over into a job following it."

Following the clover to ISU

Johnson grew up on an Iowa Century Farm 17 miles northwest of LeMars, the youngest of Carl and Joann Johnson's three children. She is a fourth-generation Iowa Stater; her parents, maternal grandparents and a set of maternal great-grandparents all met on campus. Her sister, Katy, graduated from UNI and her brother, Ben, graduated from South Dakota State University. But none of this compelled her to choose Iowa State. A 10-year veteran of 4-H activities, including competing in the 2005 Iowa State Fair Queen contest and representing Iowa at the 2005 National 4-H Congress, Johnson said 4-H led her to Iowa State. Her annual trips to campus in June, first attending and later planning the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference, convinced her Iowa State was her school, too.


"I'm sitting at a table with very accomplished people with remarkable careers. This is an opportunity you can't pass up."

-- Greta Johnson