TaRita Johnson speaks with conviction when she talks to students about calling. “I know that this is exactly the place God is calling me to be,” said Calvin’s new director of the Calvin Career Center. “I’ve never known in the moment before that I was where God was calling me to be, but I know it now.”
Johnson is thrilled to be able to share this understanding with students in her new position, but recognizes that it isn’t always so clear, especially to young, soon-to-be graduates. In fact, it wasn’t always so apparent to her.
“Finding your call and purpose takes a lot of work,” she said. “It’s not just going to drop out of the sky; you have to learn to be comfortable in the gray.”
A different vision
Getting to this point for Johnson has required much deciphering. “I had a totally different vision for my life; I planned on doing counseling on the couch,” said Johnson, who graduated from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) with a degree in psychology and social work and from the University of Michigan with a master of social work. “That’s what I went to school to do, but I kept being pushed. I’m the type of person who feels the fear and does it anyway.”
"They (Calvin alums) can make a big difference in their companies by finding out where they go to recruit and get them thinking about Calvin." TaRita Johnson
Johnson then spent more than a decade in educational institutions, working at Youngstown State University (Ohio), Penn State and Baldwin Wallace (Berea, Ohio) as a resident director and in enrollment. She also spent some time as a therapist for grade- and high-school students. She then moved to the corporate world working as manager of college recruiting for KeyBank.
Most recently she managed corporate talent acquisition for Meijer in Grand Rapids. “I had no reason to go to Grand Rapids,” said Johnson, who is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. “Why would I go to Grand Rapids? I had every excuse not to go, but I went. Now I know exactly why I came to Grand Rapids. It was one more step along my path.”
Johnson became director of the career center last fall. “At the time, all I knew about Calvin was that it was that pretty school on the way to the mall,” she said.
After quickly becoming acquainted, she was hooked: “When I was offered the job, I was scared not to take it. I felt like that would be disobedient. I knew that I would miss out on something big.”
“Big” might be the understatement of Johnson’s career thus far.
Since coming on board last fall, Johnson has launched several new initiatives in the career center.
"I think the program is a game changer in determining how we will prepare our graduates for life and work." TaRita Johnson
“We surveyed students, parents, other colleges, employers; we did a lot of benchmarking to see what we needed to be doing,” said Johnson.
“We began by realigning our career coaches into industry clusters,” Johnson explained. “We want to ensure that all students know that this office is for everyone.
“We’ve rethought our internal branding,” she said, “and offered our first-ever liberal arts job fair. We have plans to go into the residence halls to offer services in career development.”
Johnson would also like to see the office become more externally focused. “We want to be givers, not just takers,” she said. So the office hosted a professional development conference, which drew 150 attendees representing small and large companies from around west Michigan.
An easy sell
“We really would like to do more things to get employers to campus,” said Johnson. “We’re always selling Calvin in the background and that’s an easy sell. Once they have one Calvin student, they’ll want another one.”
Johnson is particularly looking for partnerships with alumni. “Calvin has amazing alums who are passionate about helping Calvin students. They can make a big difference in their companies by finding out where they go to recruit and get them thinking about Calvin.”
As Johnson has felt uplifted by discovering her call, she is eager to help Calvin students and graduates find theirs. “I’ve been exposed to so many people who need a job or have a job, but they aren’t happy. They are just going through the motions. I don’t want that for our students.
“This job is ministry and that scares me sometimes,” she said. “I never want to be anywhere that God doesn’t want me to be.”