May 5, 2011

Commencement 2011: Cuttino Award

Cathryn Johnson's goal is to pass on the guidance she received

Cathryn Johnson

Professor of sociology Cathryn Johnson wouldn't be at Emory if it weren’t for her mentor, social psychologist Cecilia Ridgeway.

"I had a crisis in my final year and decided I should go work at a ranch in Montana," Johnson says. "She didn't laugh, she just looked at me very seriously and said, 'Why don't you try the academic world first? The ranch will always be there.' "

After Johnson entered the job market and began applying to schools, her mentor recommended Emory. "She knew someone in the department here and felt like it would be perfect for me. It's the only time she ever told me exactly what to do. I got a little sticky note saying, 'You must apply.' And I did," Johnson says.

As the director of graduate studies and former director of undergraduate studies in sociology, Johnson has encouraged mentoring in the department both formally and informally. For nearly a decade, the sociology department has had an active peer mentor program, where seniors work with younger students in the major.

Mentoring as a good fit

For her efforts, Johnson is the recipient of the 2011 George P. Cuttino Award for Excellence in Mentoring, an honor she says she shares broadly with her community. Established in 1997 by trustee John T. Glover, the award is named in honor of the late history professor George Peddy Cuttino who was known as a guide and counselor beyond the classroom.

Her nominators said Johnson was an excellent candidate for the Cuttino award due to the history of work she has done to develop programs that make mentoring a "central and routine feature" of the sociology department, as well as the "extent and depth of her mentoring . . . She is extremely attentive in all of her mentoring and especially involved when students need extra help."

Whether faculty to graduate student, graduate student to undergraduate, or colleague to colleague, she says mentoring fits in with Emory's collegial, friendly atmosphere. "There is a feeling that we want you to succeed here," says Johnson.

"Not only do I enjoy mentoring, and learn as much from the students as they do from me, I'm still being mentored now at 53," she says. "Also, I encourage students to have more than one mentor—different styles meet different needs."

Johnson's favorite part of Commencement is the hooding ceremony for the new PhDs. And sometimes, yes, she gives them advice about where they should go next.

"I had a similar situation to my own, where I told one of my graduate students she really needed to interview with the University of Vermont. She was afraid it would be too cold there," Johnson recalls. "Then she got the offer and she decided to go, and hasn't regretted it. "

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