The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Becky Johnson Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

August 3, 2015


Rebecca L. Johnson was born in 1955 in Madison, Wisconsin, where she also grew up. During summers, her family vacationed at a lake cabin in northern Wisconsin, experiences which sparked in her a life-long interest in the environment and natural resources. After completing high school in 1973, Johnson stayed close to home by enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she participated in both varsity basketball and golf. An influential teaching assistant in Johnson's freshman economics course prompted in her an interest in studying the discipline. Later on, during her senior year, she met a graduate student in natural resource economics and decided to pursue that specific area as a career.

After completing her Wisconsin bachelor's degree in economics in 1977, Johnson enrolled as a graduate student at Michigan State University. While at MSU, Johnson worked as both a research assistant and a graduate teaching assistant, and earned her masters of science in agricultural economics in 1979, minoring in natural resources. Five years later, Johnson received her doctorate in agricultural economics from Michigan State, authoring a thesis titled "The Effect of Use Fees on Great Lakes Grain Exports."

In 1984 Johnson was hired as an assistant professor by Oregon State University, working in the College of Forestry's Department of Resource Recreation Management (now the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society). Johnson's research focused on estimating the economic values and impacts of non-market resources including recreation and tourism, fish and wildlife, and biodiversity.

As it moved forward, Johnson's career at OSU was marked both by increasing involvement in service opportunities as well as movement toward administration. A member of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors from 1990 to 2003, Johnson also served two terms in the OSU Faculty Senate during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Johnson's first administrative appointment likewise came to pass in the 1990s, when she was named Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and International Programs within the College of Forestry. When OSU-Cascades first opened in 2001, Johnson applied to lead the Bend campus but was not chosen for the position.

In 2002 Johnson was awarded the Beaver Champion Award from OSU as well as the Woman of Achievement Award from the OSU Women's Center for her work in teaching and mentoring students, and her success in research and administration. Earlier that year, she had been appointed chair of the OSU 2007 Steering Committee, a group charged with developing OSU's strategic plan. Her leadership of this committee paved the way for her next administrative position, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and International Programs, an office that she held on an interim basis beginning in 2002 and permanently in 2004.

In 2008 Johnson received a second opportunity to work at OSU-Cascades when the previous leader of the campus departed. Johnson initially agreed to fill the position of Vice President for OSU-Cascades - the highest executive office at the branch campus - as an interim appointment for six months, starting in December 2008. However, after seeing first-hand the amount of community support that the central Oregon school was receiving, Johnson decided to stay; she was appointed as permanent vice president of the campus the following May.

In the years that followed, Johnson quickly has became an important member of the local community. In 2008 she joined the board of Economic Development for Central Oregon, a non-profit corporation focused on boosting the local economy and creating middle class jobs, and a year later she received the Vision Builder Award from the Bend 2030 non-profit organization. Also in 2009, she joined the Higher Education Assessment Team of Central Oregon and the Rotary Club of Bend, and in 2010 she became a board member of the City Club of Central Oregon. In 2013 Johnson established the Campus Expansion Advisory Committee (CEAC) to solicit advice from multiple stakeholders on the question of how best to expand the physical footprint of the Cascades campus. In 2014 Johnson was named "Woman of the Year" by a Bend weekly newspaper, The Source, and in 2015 she was named Bend Chamber Woman of the Year.

Under Johnson's leadership, OSU-Cascades has grown to include over 1,000 students pursuing sixteen undergraduate majors and studying on a rapidly expanding campus. In fall 2015, OSU-Cascades also began accepting incoming freshmen and sophomores, in the process becoming central Oregon's first four-year university.