Chryste Johnson, Psychology Undergraduate, Social Work Graduate

Although she would never admit it, Chryste Johnson is a model student. After graduating from Humboldt State University with a B.A. in Psychology, the first-generation college graduate enrolled in the HSU social work master's program, which she completed May 2012.

In 2011 the CSU Board of Trustees awarded Johnson the prestigious Hearst Memorial Scholarship and in 2012, HSU named Johnson the Outstanding Student of the Year for her contribution to a campus club or program. But Johnson's path to success has not always been so smooth.

Despite taking honors classes in high school, a D in her senior year of American History dashed Johnson's hopes of college. "I just didn't think it was an option for me after that," she said. "I had a job lined up that would be paying me $7.25 an hour — I was set." That was before Cheryl Seidner, an HSU Educational Opportunity Program representative, called. "She was like a stalker," Johnson said, laughing. "That's exactly what I needed." Over the phone, Seidner convinced Johnson that college — specifically HSU — was the right choice for her.

On a Thursday she helped Johnson apply to HSU. By the following Saturday, Johnson was on a Greyhound bus driving up to Humboldt County for Summer Bridge — a mandatory orientation program for incoming freshman in the program. All Johnson needed was a set of clothes; everything else would be taken care of, Seidner said. Although Johnson's mother, a single parent, thought the program was too good to be true, she let the 18-year-old — who had never traveled outside of Los Angeles County — go.

"She just kept telling me, 'Don't sign anything!'" But Johnson ended up doing a lot of signing that weekend. In addition to applying for financial aid and subsidized loans, Johnson chose her residence hall and registered for classes. For a teenager who had ruled college out, Johnson's entire world was about to change.

During her undergraduate career Johnson embraced university life. In addition to working all four years with HSU Housing and Dining Services, Johnson served on the University Center board of directors and the Student Health Advisory Committee. She also volunteered with the Youth Educational Services' Juvenile Hall Recreation Program.

Looking back, now 13 years since she first arrived at HSU, Johnson feels immensely grateful to those in EOP who helped her succeed. Through the EOP program, Johnson was able to come full circle — after obtaining her bachelor's degree in psychology Johnson worked in the EOP Office as an Administrative Assistant. Johnson went above and beyond her job responsibilities in the capacity, working to help bring students like herself to HSU.

"I would hardcore recruit students," Johnson said, smiling as she thought back on her time with EOP. "I mean I would seriously pester them. 'Just fill out this one form, just sign on this line.' I would fight for them because I didn't want anyone telling them they couldn't do it."

Although Johnson quit her job with EOP to enter the HSU master's program, she said it remains one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life. "Working for EOP was my end goal. But then when I hit it I was like, 'Wait, I am 28. What do I do with my life now?'' The answer for Johnson was social work, and because of her time with EOP she knew she wanted to work with young people.

"You have to follow your heart. I always knew I was drawn to people and that they were drawn to me. But I was shy and it took me awhile to figure that out. I went on this whole crazy path, but really I guess I knew the whole time that I just wanted to be helping people." Johnson will be putting her master's degree to use as a social worker in Ukiah beginning June 2012. She hopes to eventually move back to Humboldt County to work in Child Welfare Services.

The biggest piece of advice Johnson has for students, first generation or otherwise, it to get involved and to take their educations into their own hands. "Here is my philosophy. It is what helped me succeed. Get involved. Join a committee or a club," she said. "It pushes you and it connects you to the community. When I first got to HSU I thought, 'they don't want me,' but they do! You might not know it, but people value your input."