Physics and Engineering Student Johnson is Cypress College’s 2014 Outstanding Graduate

After a decade-long break between high school and college, the single father with a 3.97 GPA is headed to Cal Berkeley in the fall.

2014 Outstanding Graduate James Johnson
2014 Outstanding Graduate James Johnson

The path from under-employed construction worker to undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley is a remarkable one. James Johnson, Cypress College’s 2014 Outstanding Graduate, did not take the traditional road to higher education that most students take. His journey includes being a single father to his 11-year-old son, and the loss of his home to foreclosure during the recent economic downturn. After deciding it was time to make a change, Johnson turned to Cypress College to pursue his interest in Engineering. Cypress College offered a flexible class schedule which allowed him to take classes in the evenings, work and care for his son. Today, he is graduating with an Associate’s of Science Transfer degree in Physics.

After nearly a decade-long break from education, Johnson enrolled here at Cypress College in 2010 and worked his way through classes while maintaining a 3.97 GPA — that’s A grades in 29 of his 30 classes. He received the Kathy Godshalk Memorial Scholarship and earned acceptance to California State University campuses in Long Beach and Fullerton, and University of California campuses in Irvine, Riverside, Berkeley and Los Angeles. Ultimately, he decided on UC Berkeley, where he will major in Mechanical Engineering.

The field of mechanical engineering utilizes his passion for building and creating, but is more cognitive — and less physical — than the construction industry he left behind.

Johnson worked his way through the entire sequence of Cypress College math courses — starting at Math 20 and completing Math 250B — an unusual and impressive accomplishment. Mathematics Professor Christina Plett notes that Johnson “demonstrates a willingness and an aptitude for learning new and sometimes difficult concepts.”

Physics and Engineering Professor Brinda Subramaniam also offered praise for Johnson. “He is always full of energy and innovative ideas.”

It was his intense interest in discovering how things work that brought him to this major. “As a child, I built my own toys because I enjoyed the process of building the toy more than actually playing with it,” he said. “This love of learning and passion for figuring out how things work still inspires me today.”