JENNIFER JOHNSON EARNS PRESTIGIOUS AWARD
Penn State Brandywine senior Jennifer Johnson, of Media, was so excited recently when she learned she had earned a 2007-08 Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship, she could hardly contain herself.
"My first reaction was, 'ahhh!', then I started crying and shaking, and I couldn't speak," said the energetic 24-year old student at Penn State Brandywine. Johnson, a native Canadian who won the scholarship from the southern Quebec/northern New Hampshire office of Rotary International, had her pick of most of the countries of the world to continue her studies for one year and perform community service on behalf of Rotary International. She could have chosen a stable, relatively well off country like Australia or England. Instead, she picked the African country of Ghana and the University of Ghana.
"I only wanted to go to Ghana or Beirut, and a week after I made them my top two selections, there was unrest in Lebanon that prohibited my going there," she said, noting that her final destination hasn't been confirmed as yet. "I want to be a humanitarian affairs officer who raises the standard of living in developing countries. There's such a misunderstanding between the developing and developed world. There are problems in these countries and by studying their culture I can better understand their needs."
If Johnson is taking the road less traveled in choosing Ghana, it's certainly nothing new. After graduating high school in the province of Quebec, Canada, as a 16-year-old, Johnson went to college for four semesters before departing without any real plan for China, where she lived for three years. She later would live in Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia, before ending up in Delaware County nearly three years ago.
"I didn't know anything about China, but I was kind of tired of school at the time and didn't know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to go somewhere. People in Canada and the U.S. think you're supposed to go to college after high school even if you don't know what you want to do, but that was wrong for me," she said. "In China, I taught preschool for a government-run kindergarten for three years, and then I sort of wandered around for a while trying to figure things out, visiting countries that most people never get to see."
One of the most interesting, painful memories for Johnson was when her appendix burst while she was living in Laos. After getting an IV from a local hospital, Johnson illegally crossed the border into Thailand because she thought she might get better care there. The IV got damaged while Johnson finagled her way through a barbed wire fence, and by the time she got medical attention, the situation had worsened.
"When the doctor at the hospital examined me, I screamed. He said that if I had gotten to the hospital five minutes later, the game would have been over–that I would have died," she recalled.
When she came to Delaware County to become a nanny for a local couple, life settled down a bit, but Johnson's thirst for adventure–and the opportunity to help her fellow man–has never wavered.
She is currently president of the Making a Difference Everyday (M.A.D.E.) community service club at Penn State Brandywine, which, among other things, painted a mural at an Easter Seals facility across the street from campus. She also aided the American Red Cross in Philadelphia when the organization brought Hurricane Katrina victims to the area in the summer of 2005. This type of giving has long been part of Johnson's makeup.
"I worked at a community center and made meals for Meals on Wheels when I was 14 years old. I've always been a nurturer; I've always just wanted to take care of people," said Johnson, who majors in Letters, Arts and Sciences. With all of her desire to help others, Johnson said Penn State Brandywine has been the right place for her.
"People here are so helpful and will bend over backwards to help you. I told (faculty advisor) Dr. Nancy Wyatt what I wanted to do with my life and she saw the scholarship opportunity, and knew it was right for me," she said.
The Penn State Brandywine campus community is understandably proud of Johnson's achievement.
"The Penn State Brandywine campus, through its Minor in Civic and Community Engagement and a host of other endeavors, continually seeks to do positive things in the community. Jenny is an excellent student, and a fine example of someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help others," said campus Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska.
Press Contact: David Jwanier, manager of public information, 215-881-7446 or 215-260-6504 (cell).