Professors program cultivates future faculty

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the October issue of USC Times. It is available online. For a hard copy, contact Craig Brandhorst.

When Brian Johnson applied to the African American Professors Program at the University of South Carolina, he didn’t realize he would become a pioneer. But that’s exactly what happened when the doctoral student in American literature became the first African-American man to earn a Ph.D. in literature from Carolina.

“When you’re the first, it often means you’re not around a lot of other people who look like you,” says Johnson, who completed the degree in 2003. “It was helpful to receive the nurturing and the affirmation of intellectual capacity that the African American Professors Program offered.”

In fact, that’s exactly what the AAPP was designed to do. The state legislature, the university and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation established the program in 1997 to address the underrepresentation of minorities in the professorial ranks by recruiting, supporting and preparing minority doctoral students who want to become college professors. Since then, more than 40 minority candidates recruited by the AAPP have completed their doctoral studies at Carolina. 

“The program has been recognized for its effective results and vital impact, and I think that’s largely because of the mentoring and support we provide to our students,” says Johnnie McFadden, longtime director of the program.

AAPP alumni are currently employed in higher education institutions and agencies across the country including Emory University, Tuskegee University, Oklahoma State University, Montclair State University, NASA and the National Wildlife Federation. 

While he was at Carolina, Johnson was mentored not only through the AAPP but also by former English professor Kwame Dawes and 
the late Matt Bruccoli. The latter helped him develop a methodology Johnson would later use in writing two books about W.E.B. DuBois.

He went on to be an English faculty member at Gordon College 
in Massachusetts and at Claflin University in South Carolina before becoming provost and vice president for strategic planning at Austin Peay University. Since 2014, he has been president of the historic Tuskegee University in Alabama. He returned to Carolina last December to deliver the commencement address at the doctoral hooding ceremony.

“I had deep and wide experiences at USC,” he says, “and AAPP was quite instrumental in planting the seeds that connected me with many great people there.”

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