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Meet Darius Johnson, Academic Programs Office Coordinator

February 10, 2023

Our new Academic Programs Office coordinator is excited to make a difference in the lives of students underrepresented in the marine and environmental sciences. He shares what Black History Month means to him.

A black man wearing sunglasses, t-shirt, shorts, and sandals leans his back against a patio railing. In the background are tropical plants and palm trees, roof tops, and forested mountains. Darius Johnson in St. Lucia. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Darius Johnson

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Americus, Georgia. It’s about 150 miles south of Atlanta.

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

I attended Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications. Savannah State University is Georgia’s oldest public historically black college/university (HBCU). I then earned a Master of Education degree from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. Later I earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

How did you come to work at the Science Center?

After working in the legal profession, I started researching education positions. Through my research I learned about IBSS—they’re a contracting company for NOAA Fisheries and other federal agencies. I found an academic programs office coordinator position on their website that interested me. During my research about the position, I became intrigued by the list of internship opportunities the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and NOAA Fisheries offered. The opportunity to help build and develop diversity programs at the science center and collaborating institutions excited me a lot. Having the chance to build relations between HBCUs and create a pipeline for students to obtain employment with NOAA Fisheries is incredible. What an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students underrepresented in the marine and environmental sciences.

What do you do at the Science Center?

As the academic programs coordinator for the science center, I focus on exciting programs like the Inclusive NOAA Fisheries Internship Program and Woods Hole Partnership Education Program. The IN FISH Program helps build a diverse and inclusive workforce of scientists and managers while PEP helps college students from underrepresented groups in marine and ocean sciences gain practical experience in marine and environmental science. Since starting this position in April 2022, I have developed a system that tracks graduates of NOAA internships and helps recruit new members to join our workforce. I also created virtual and in-person information sessions to recruit students and answer their questions about our internship programs. Because we wanted a strong presence on the web, I’ve been working regularly with our communications staff to redesign the Academic Programs Office webspace, keep information fresh and current, and add new pages as needed. I also serve on a few committees, including the Woods Hole Black History Month Committee, NOAA Fisheries’ Education Council, and other local community committees. After receiving the Deputy’s Award in August 2022, I realized this position is the perfect opportunity to continue to grow my career.

A black man wearing athletic clothing sits on a bench in a residential area. A dog sits on the concrete ground to his right.
Darius Johnson and his shar pei dog named Fitz. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Darius Johnson

What do you like most about your position?

The students! You have to prepare for the questions you will get from students. I enjoy finding answers for students and helping them get the most out of their internship experience. It’s clear from my conversations with students that they appreciate the time, care, and attention our staff gives them during and after their internship with us. This includes letters of recommendation, resume guidance, and potential career opportunities.

Our IN FISH Program is only 2 years old. That gives us the latitude to continue building and evolving to meet the needs of today’s students. We’re doing that by bringing in former interns to share their experiences with potential IN FISH and PEP students. This helps improve our program and give students the best internship experience possible. These programs are planting seeds for future scientists in the world and NOAA.

Another thing I enjoy about my job is that I can look at the entire education and experience of students applying to IN FISH and PEP. Our unique admission style means we can work with all kinds of students from different backgrounds. That means a lot to me.

Lastly, I enjoy watching our interns grow and excel. Students spend their first 2 weeks at our James J. Howard Marine Science Laboratory in New Jersey. During this time, they learn about NOAA, careers in NOAA, the research we do, and more. After that, they work with their assigned mentors on their research projects at NOAA Fisheries labs located across the United States. At the end of their internship, students create scientific presentations based on the research they have been working on. It’s at this point that you can see and hear how far they’ve come—how they’ve been able to develop and hone their science and research skills. It’s amazing what they achieve in their 10 weeks with us!

A black man and woman wearing sunglasses and summer clothes sit on a three-wheeled motorcycle in front of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area sign.
Darius Johnson and his wife Trina ride a Can-Am Ryker motorcycle through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, west of Las Vegas, Nevada. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Darius Johnson

What are some of your hobbies?

During my leisure time, I enjoy hiking and motorcycle riding. I am also a serious foodie, so outside of work, I explore new cuisine and fun eateries. My favorite hiking locations in Georgia are Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain. They are also great places to ride my Can-Am Ryker motorcycle. Atlanta has a lot of wonderful restaurants and festivals. If you are ever in the Atlanta area, I suggest Dave’s Cheesesteak and The Busy Bee Café, and for the best BBQ in town, head to Tom, Dick & Hank.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month reminds me of where we’ve been, how much work there is left to do, and where we need to go. This month allows other cultures to understand and learn about African American history and to appreciate the accomplishments and impacts of African American people. It also gives me the freedom to revisit my ancestors, acknowledge their great sacrifice, and share this information with colleagues, which led to vast contributions to the world.

For more information, please contact Heather Soulen.