Vet Talks About Making Transition to Tech

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Making the shift from working for the Army to the civilian workforce can be a bit of a culture shock. Just ask Ron Johnson.         

Johnson served for 32 years in the U.S. Army where he held the title of deputy commanding general and deputy chief of engineers. Before arriving at Georgia Tech, he served as the National Basketball Association’s senior vice president of Referee Operations.

“The Army trains leaders very well. You don’t have an environment of micromanaging,” said Johnson, professor of the practice in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and managing director of the Tennenbaum Institute. “Transitioning to the NBA for my second career, the adaptation there was having the responsibility but not the authority. Then, coming here, I’m still adapting to the new culture of the academic world because I’ve only been here about nine months.”

He added that adjusting to the slow pace at which academia moves has been a challenge. “I understand that’s how the process works [referring to getting papers published], but it takes some getting used to,” he added.

Read on to learn more about Johnson.

How did you end up at Tech?       
In 2008, I had my retirement ceremony, and I had no idea what I’d do next. I said in my retirement speech that my third career would be teaching leadership and math at a university. I did not think it would be at Georgia Tech, though. I thought about trying to teach at Morgan State because I know the Dean of Engineering there. But Georgia Tech kept poking me. I got my master’s here. I’m a member of the Foundation, I’m a trustee. Tech wrapped its arms around me, and when I was asked to come, I couldn’t say no.

What challenges do veterans face coming here, whether as students or staff?
I think employees adjust a little bit better. The students who are vets come with very high standards and expectations — not to say other students don’t come with them — but these young men and women come with extraordinary expectations of themselves. And when the results aren’t the way they would like for them to be, you just don’t know where it might take them. Many of them are combat veterans; many of them may come with some baggage associated with serving in such an environment. So, we just want to make sure we are around aware, because their tendency is to cope by themselves. We as a campus community want to give them tools to cope properly.    

What do you like about Tech?     
I love teaching. I love the students — I love to see them grow. I love running into them after I have taught them because that’s when they are more genuine. When you’re their professor, the relationship is different. My job is not to just have them understand probability and statistics but to make them better people. I am pretty serious about that. I love that aspect of it. I love the work environment, too. People get along, people collaborate, and people don’t micromanage you.

Tell us about the new Employee Resource Group for veterans you’re involved with.
We are going to be working closely with other affinity-type groups on campus: the Student Veterans Association, the Georgia Tech Military Affinity Group, and Veterans on Campus. We are going to cooperate. We are not there to replace supervisors and management; we are there to facilitate people getting things done and to help them in their own careers. We hope to do an event each month — we’ll get together and talk about how things are going and will empower people and encourage them. I’m excited about it. (For more, click here.)

For the Q&A in its entirety, click here



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Amelia Pavlik
  • Created:11/11/2013
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016