Johnson’s leadership, service has impact across UI system
MechSE professor Harley Johnson will soon complete his year in the 2017-2018 University of Illinois President’s Executive Leadership Program (PELP). As one of only seven members from the Urbana-Champaign campus named to the program this year, Johnson was selected as a representative of the faculty, while others named to the list include deans, department heads, and senior administrators from across the university system.
The program’s four multi-day workshops expand participants’ understanding of issues in higher education, strengthen their leadership skills, and give them the tools to manage a public institution at the university or system level. The program goal is to identify and prepare a diverse group of potential future leaders.
“The program has been very interesting, especially as a way to learn about the engagement of the Illinois, UIC, and UIS campuses with legislators in Washington and in Springfield,” said Johnson. “It was really an honor to join the group, and a nice outcome of some of the campus and UI system level activities that I’ve been a part of.”
In addition to leading his research group in MechSE, where he and his group study the mechanics of materials for photovoltaics, electronics, optics, and sensing applications, Johnson has emerged as a college and campus leader, serving in a number of roles as an advocate and representative of faculty issues and concerns. His invitation from UI President Timothy Killeen to join the PELP program, he said, arose from his service on the University Senates Conference (USC), an elected body of faculty representatives from across the UI system that interfaces with the President and the Board of Trustees.
“My term on USC has coincided with several big issues that have affected faculty, including the state budget impasse, and some big changes in administrative leadership. During that time, I was able to take faculty concerns directly to the system administration and the members of the board,” Johnson said.
On the Illinois campus, he was appointed as the first Faculty Fellow in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) with a 2017-2019 term. In this role, he has been asked to bring the perspective of a research-active faculty member to the operations of the OVCR, and to help build infrastructure to support large-scale, interdisciplinary faculty research.
“This, too, has been a great learning experience, and an opportunity for me personally to build stronger connections to researchers and potential collaborators in different colleges and in the interdisciplinary institutes – Beckman, NSCA, and others,” Johnson said.
And closer to home, in the College of Engineering, he was appointed in 2017 as chair of the first College of Engineering Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. This new body was established to advise the dean on ways to better recruit and retain faculty and students from underrepresented groups, and to create a more inclusive climate for students, staff, and faculty.
“The opportunity to work on such an important issue came out of my past experiences leading MechSE department initiatives in graduate programs and in faculty recruiting, and while it has required some energy, the impact we’re having, and the pleasure of working with such excellent colleagues to make the college a better place, is wonderful motivation,” said Johnson. “When I think about what I want to work on, I always ask myself, ‘Is this something I personally feel strongly about, and is it a place where I can make an impact?’ Then I have to decide how I‘m going to balance that with my other activities. I love my research and my research group, and we’re doing a lot of exciting things right now, so I protect that time carefully. But I enjoy the service to the university and that’s why I’m doing it.”
Johnson is a professor and Kritzer Faculty Scholar in MechSE. He joined the department in 2001. His research group studies the mechanics of electronic and photonic materials, the mechanics of nanostructures, and optical properties of materials, working on a variety of projects currently supported by NSF, DOE, and the Army Research Office. He also teaches courses from the 200-level to the 500-level, mostly in the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics program.