Refugee and Concordia grad puts homeland security degree in focus
Growing up in Liberia, a West African country on the Atlantic coast, Heinz Johnson had a passion for studying criminal justice and security. “I took entry-level broadcasting courses after high school with an emphasis on security,” he says. But an ongoing civil war in his country made pursuing a degree in security too dangerous. How did he go from being a refugee fleeing decades of civil unrest to his current role with the Diplomatic Security Uniformed Division at the State Department for the United States? It’s a journey of perseverance, commitment, faith, and heart.
A new world
In the late 1990s, Johnson immigrated to the United States and settled in the Virginia area. His plan was to get a degree in criminal justice. Then came 9/11 and everything changed. “I worked full-time and attended school part-time at my local community college, enrolling in general studies courses that would guide me on the right path for work in the intelligence community, security, or any law enforcement related field,” he explains. But the courses weren’t quite right. “I was nearing the end of my studies at my local community college and I hesitated on where to go next.”
The Concordia connection
So how does a refugee from Liberia who settles in Virginia end up in the homeland security program at Concordia University in Portland? Simple. His wife Annette McGee Johnson, a Northwest native, made the suggestion. “It appears they have what you are looking for in your career,” Johnson explains, recalling the conversation with his wife. “Homeland security is a growing discipline with many specialty areas – intelligence, counter-intelligence, FEMA, related courses, and analytical specialties.” Johnson followed up with some online research and quickly learned that Concordia’s homeland security program was exactly what he was looking for. He also learned that several of his in-laws had attended school there. “I requested a visit where I met with professor Scott and received an overview of the program. I was able to transfer my credits from the community college and in the spring of 2014, I started classes.”