Tranquility and tenure in order for Johnson-Webb

Alaina Buzas and Alaina Buzas

In 412 South Hall, Dr. Karen Johnson-Webb leans back in her desk chair and lets the feeling of accomplishment sink in.

“I feel like I can relax with a capital ‘R’ for the first time in a long time,” Johnson-Webb said.

Johnson-Webb recently earned her tenure for her joint position in the center of Regional Development and the Geography Department, making her the first African-American and the first woman to reach tenure status in the Geography Department at the University.

“I love to teach,” said Johnson-Webb. “I’ve worked factory lines, I’ve waited tables” It’s a big perk to actually do something you enjoy.”

Although she didn’t begin studying geography until her undergraduate years at Michigan State University, Johnson-Webb has always had what she calls, “An infinity for maps.”

“[As a kid] I always had maps in my room, and I always had control of maps on family trips,” she said.

Her childhood love of maps led Johnson-Webb to earn her bachelor’s and master’s in geography at Michigan State and later a Ph.D. in geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After spending three years as a teaching fellow at UNC, Johnson-Webb accepted the job she currently holds at the University because of the ability to work in the CRD and the Geography Department, as well as the opportunity to do applied research.

Johnson-Webb said the CRD’s mission to use their work to improve someone’s quality of life, has become her own mission as well. In 2003, she was named the “National Volunteer of the Year” by Rural Opportunities Inc.

She initially went to ROI asking for permission to volunteer with the intention of using her work there for her research on vulnerable populations and minorities, and ended up becoming very involved with Rural Opportunities. Johnson-Webb continues to work with ROI on a weekly basis and hopes to keep it a part of her life in the future.

Now that she’s earned her tenure, Johnson-Webb hopes to continue what she’s been doing here, but also try something different.

“I’m really at a crossroads,” she said. “It’s a really exciting time.”

She also said she wants to work with course development to help formulate new classes and she aims to, one day, be promoted to professor.

Outside of work, Johnson-Webb recently purchased a home with her husband and is “discovering flowers.” Her and her husband have one daughter, who is in graduate school at North Carolina Central University.

Although her own daughter doesn’t share her love for geography, Johnson-Webb hopes to incite an interest in the field in her students.

“It’s terribly important to know something other than what’s familiar,” Johnson-Webb said. “Students can’t locate Iraq on a map. With all the resources we’re putting into that conflict, and the cost of lives, they should at least know where and why.”