You are here

The first Dan Close scholar is ...

Josie Johnson is petite, gracious, and polite. She’s a good student—good enough to have received a Pathway Oregon scholarship and now the inaugural Dan Close Scholarship from the College of Education. It was not always this way.

Behind her pale-blue eyes and in the timbre of the family and human service major's voice are still-fresh memories of the girl she used to be. Troubled. Unfocused. You get the impression she's seen some stuff. Done some stuff. Having split her youth between Pilot Rock, Oregon and the nearby Umatilla Indian Reservation—of which she is a descendant—there wasn’t exactly a well-established pipeline to college. But about halfway through her sophomore year, Josie flipped some internal switch and decided to start applying herself. She got a job washing dishes. Freshman year aside, she became a 4.0 student. Her former math teacher suggested that she apply for Pathway Oregon and potentially earn a full academic scholarship to the UO. This was halfway through her senior year, mind you, by which time many high schoolers have already figured out which roommate is bringing the TV next fall. Josie had long since moved out of her mom's house by then and was self-sufficient. None of the roads she traveled in and around Pilot Rock really led out—certainly not to Eugene. She was okay with that, but the notion of a full ride to the UO was certainly intriguing. Was she the college type?

“I was pretty skeptical,” she says. “Even after my first and second term here, I was still pretty skeptical."

It’s hard for her to pinpoint the moment she decided to embrace her intellect, but for a while she was staying with a good friend who didn’t make the greatest choices and wound up in jail. She moved back home, by which time she was simply too busy to get in trouble. With her mother working full-time, she also had a responsibility to her two younger sisters. Basically, it was just time to grow up.

For rural communities like Pilot Rock, and especially for Native American communities, sending their best and brightest off to college is both a win and a loss. Most will not return except to visit, helping perpetuate the economic and social stagnation that has long beset rural America.

For her part, the first-generation college student already knows she wants to go back. It’s too early to say, but she thinks she wants to establish her own nonprofit back home similar to the Brattain House in Springfield, where she currently works as an intern. Brattain is a gateway to a wide range of services for families and youth. A lot of people come through for a lot of reasons, many of which Josie understands all too well. Does she see a lot of her former self in the youths she works with?

“Oh yeah,” she says with a laugh. “Definitely.”

Her Native heritage has played a major role in how she sees the world as an adult—a connection she didn’t fully appreciate until she’d been away for a while.

“Being six hours away, I hardly ever get to go home,” she says. “My family contribution is zero, so being able to go to the [Many Nations] Longhouse and spend time with other people whose culture is very similar is very helpful. And it makes me not feel so homesick."

Though she’d prefer not to think about it just yet, grad school remains an option. Josie says that, if anything, she would study tribal law, a specialization in which she has some family connections. She says representing fellow Natives would be a gratifying pursuit.

Josie’s younger sisters, who since have moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with Josie’s mother, already are targeting college themselves. She says she's elated for them to go to college and feels blessed to have sparked that desire in them. Now she must come to terms with the potential consequences of that desire.

“They’re always telling me what college they’re going to go to. My one sister wants to go to California and I’m like, ‘No! I’m not happy about that.’ Hopefully she changes her mind when the time comes."