Graduate Tampa Bay: Older Learner Says 'Don't Be Afraid Of Failure'

North Port resident Jodi Johnson overcame adversity and internal fears to take the first step toward earning a college degree, and now the 39-year old New College of Florida student says she’s glad she returned to school and hopes to encourage others to do the same.

Like many people, Johnson began her college studies directly after high school. But after getting pregnant her junior year, she dropped out, thinking college just wasn’t her priority.

Nearly three years later, her then-husband died of a drug overdose, leaving her suddenly widowed with a two-year old son. The experience left her feeling overwhelmed and somewhat smothered.

"I felt like I needed to sort of prove myself,'' says Johnson. "I couldn’t be dependent on anyone else again.''

Four years later and remarried, she moved to Florida with her husband and son in 2000. They were attracted to the Tampa Bay area during a vacation in Sarasota, where they fell in love with the weather, culture and amenities.

A variety of part-time administrative jobs that followed just didn’t seem to give her the mental stimulation and satisfaction she needed. At the age of 35, it was ultimately her mom’s pushing that prompted her decision to return to school.

"I was on the phone with her and driving by State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF), and I decided to stop in and look.'' Half an hour later, she was registered for classes.

At first, the experience was very scary for Johnson. She was apprehensive about being older than many of the other students. She also worried about brushing up on some of the required courses.

"I felt terrified to tears of math class,'' she recalls. She had to take five math courses to obtain her associates degree, which turned out to be a big self esteem builder.

"I can’t say enough about State College,'' says Johnson. "They have a great program that really encourages adult learners.''

Earning Her BA Degree

Once she became acclimated to being in school, she got involved with leadership organizations such as Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She also co-founded the Awareness Initiative Program at SCF, designed to raise awareness of drug and alcohol dependence. "That really showed me that I have leadership skills -- that I wanted to push myself.''

In 2010, Johnson transferred to New College of Florida in Sarasota, another intimidating and uncertain step because of the school’s reputation for selecting only the best and brightest.

"School really taught me not to be scared of failure,'' says Johnson. "I thought, 'what's the worst that can happen?' '' 

Now a year and a half into her studies at New College, Johnson plans to graduate in December 2013 with a BA in anthropology. "I've always had this interest in other cultures, and telling their story.''

Her school has been funded mainly through scholarships, as well as Pell Grants.

Johnson was recently appointed to the Sarasota Historic Board of Commissioners and is establishing the Ancient Waters Foundation to preserve and educate people about Florida’s historical and archaeological water-based resources. She is trying to raise awareness of the vast amount of culture in Tampa Bay. "I don't think people realize all the Gulf coast offers.''

When asked what advice she would give to others thinking about returning to school, Johnson says she tells everyone she meets: "Don't be scared of failure. Push yourself. You just have to jump in and go for it.''

Megan Hendricks is a native Floridian and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

A Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident, Megan Hendricks graduated from the University of South Florida with a master's degree in business administration. She worked at the USF College of Business and has extensive community experience including the Tampa Bay Partnership's Talent Dividend Advisory Board, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Emerge Tampa Bay, Ekhos, and Bar Camp Tampa. She is a former board member and newsletter editor for Creative Tampa Bay. Megan enjoys telling the stories that make Tampa Bay a unique, diverse cultural experience.