Student space to promote diversity
The Robert & Glenda Johnson Collaboration Space, established by a generous gift from alumnus Rashod R. Johnson (BS 00, MS 05), will provide a relaxed place to study and socialize for CEE students in the new Hydrosystems Laboratory addition.
“Looking at the layout, I thought, ‘This would be an awesome space to comfortably study, and stay around the civil engineering campus,’” Johnson said. “Often times, while I was a student, I needed to kill an hour or two between classes and didn’t want to go far. Now there will be a dedicated space to study for a couple of hours between classes.”
Diversity and inclusion are at the front of Johnson’s mind when he talks about his vision for the space. The design of the space is not final, but the intention is to create an inviting space for people of all backgrounds to gather and will include African-American inspired artwork highlighting Chicago’s South Side on display – where Johnson grew up. There were very few African-American faculty and students in the civil engineering department when he was a student, he said, and few places to study where he felt comfortable.
“I would love to be able to showcase the South Side of Chicago, where students from that area could look at pictures or paintings or 3D renderings of things that are familiar,” Johnson said.
Most of the “greats” associated with civil engineering at Illinois fit the same demographic, Johnson noted, but he believes that his space, along with the classroom established by his colleague and fellow alumnus Wilbur C. Milhouse (BS 94, MS 95), will exemplify a more diverse civil engineering department. He hopes that named spaces in the building established by African-American civil engineers will foster pride in students of all ethnicities and backgrounds, ultimately creating a more diverse population of civil engineers at the University of Illinois.
Johnson has found great success in his career, and currently serves as President and CEO of Ardmore Roderick, of one of the largest African-American-owned engineering firms in the nation. He believes he has a responsibility to give back and help people who are less fortunate. In addition to giving and service, Johnson provides a full-ride scholarship for an African-American male each year to St. Ignatius College Prep, a private high school in Chicago where Johnson graduated.
“I’ve been ridiculously blessed in my life,” Johnson said. “As a young man growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I never envisioned operating an international engineering firm.”
Johnson’s goal is to inspire people who are from all parts of Chicago.
“To say ‘Hey, you know what? I did it, you can do it too’,” Johnson said. “Giving back is an opportunity to share some of the things I’ve been blessed with. I think we have a responsibility to do that.”