Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Korrie Johnson had plenty of support from family and friends. “I had people who looked like me to serve as role models, give me support and tell me that I was going to do great things.” So when Korrie made the decision to pursue a PhD, he knew that it would be very important for any university he chose to have an active diversity unit. “I was used to having a strong support system and would need that same kind of support at school, because wherever I went, I knew I would be a minority.” he said.
Having sent applications out to several colleges and universities, Korrie was accepted into seven PhD programs. To help him decide which school he would attend, Korrie searched the websites of each of the potential schools to find out more about any black graduate student programs on their campuses. This narrowed down the schools to just a few, including The Ohio State University. On a visit to Ohio State, Korrie had a break during his tour and ended up visiting Hale Hall and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center. What impressed him about the Hale Center was the activity he saw once he walked through the doors. Korrie immediately felt at home, and that was enough to make him realize that he would move forward in his academic journey as a Buckeye.
Once admitted to Ohio State, Korrie was able to see and feel just how much support he would have during his academic journey. Before school even started, Korrie attended the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) Minority Student Orientation on August 28, 2014. The annual orientation offered a chance for new and returning underrepresented graduate and professional students to network with students from other academic units at Ohio State. Korrie also became active in the Black Graduate and Professional Student Caucus, where he met Robert Bennett, PhD, who works in ODI’s Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male (BNRC). Dr. Bennett would serve Korrie well as a mentor in the first few weeks at school. “Having received a master’s degree, I thought I knew what to expect from grad school as a PhD student. But the classes were very different. Robert was there to listen to me when I was feeling a bit lost. He reminded me of why I was here and got me back on track.”
Another event hosted by ODI that Korrie attended was the annual Preparing for the Professoriate Retreat, which encourages and prepares PhD students to take on careers in higher education. After the retreat, Korrie, who initially had no interest in becoming a professor, changed his mind. “Teaching really wasn’t on my radar. But once I attended the retreat, I learned why it’s important to be in academia: to teach others and to serve as a role model.” He continued, “The retreat also offered good advice on how to navigate grad school and the doctorate in particular, helping me to learn how to manage my time and not lose myself. It provided me with an entire community that could pick me up.”
Through all of these organizations, programs and events, Korrie has received the same level of support he was used to in Tennessee. He also has had the opportunity to meet fellow grad students, peer mentors, and role models, such as Robert Bennett and David Graham, who serves as the director of the Student-Athlete Support Services Office. All have given him guidance, support and advice that will help him handle the pressures associated with getting his doctorate. “I’ve learned that I can’t forget where I came from and the people who helped me along the way. I also realized that I can’t let fear make me lose who I am,” he stated. As for the responsibility to earn his degree, Korrie acknowledges that although getting his PhD is important to him, he’s earning that degree for others, too: “Most of my friends didn’t have the opportunity to earn a PhD. They would want me to finish my degree. I’m representing my whole community.”
Korrie plans to graduate in 2019 with a PhD in sociology, a field he chose because he was raised with an awareness of inequities and racism. His research focuses on gender, race and class as well as family and demographics, leading him to search for the answer to the question of why some struggle while others do not.