Jodie Johnson, the former assistant director of Lehigh’s technical entrepreneurship program, was recently laid off.
Alumni and students alike wrote to President Simon and the administration in hopes of reversing this decision. Briana Gardell, ‘14, ‘15TE, said some even offered to donate thousands of dollars to the program in hopes of keeping Johnson in her position.
Gardell maintained a close relationship with Johnson years after she completed the program and was one of the first people who reached out to Lehigh following the news of Johnson’s termination.
“(Johnson) texts asking me for updates on my business, and anytime I am near campus I go back to talk to (the technical entrepreneurship program), and we always take time to catch up,” Gardell said. “During my time at Lehigh, she connected me with the middle school where her son was at the time, and I was able to test my toy product with students. So that was really helpful.”
David Pulsifer, ‘17, ‘18TE, was also shocked and said the program won’t be the same without her. Johnson helped Pulsifer find a job after he graduated from Lehigh.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without her,” Pulsifer said.
Donterrius Walker, ‘19, a current student in technical entrepreneurship, never got the chance to cultivate a close relationship with Johnson. Yet, he said she still greatly impacted his first four months in the program.
There was one spot left in the program, and she encouraged him to apply. Once in the program, Johnson helped Walker secure financial aid and find a job to support himself.
Walker said he got into the technical entrepreneurship program because of Johnson, even though they didn’t know each other well.
“We are angry that this happened, but we are more angry that we didn’t get an explanation,” Gardell said. “We are hoping to place Jodie (Johnson) in another job at Lehigh. We want to fix her situation in any way we can.”
Pulsifer said he fears that without her, new students will have a harder time adjusting to the program.
“We have a pretty significant portion of us from TE who are international students,” Pulsifer said. “She just helps you get connected and get acclimated with anything. She knows who to connect you to.”
He said the professors in the program would teach, and Johnson would do everything else.
Gardell said various alumni offered to donate approximately $100,000 to the program as a means of keeping Johnson on board, but she was still cut, raising suspicion among alumni as to why Lehigh would not take this donation.
“She provides resources, motivation, food, just about anything,” Walker said. “She provides everything beyond the classroom. She is our mom, in a sense. And imagine if someone took your mom away from you. How would you feel? What did she do wrong?”
Gardell said Johnson’s son, a senior in high school, would have received a $250,000 scholarship from Lehigh next year if Johnson were still involved with the program.
She questioned the ethical nature of Lehigh firing Johnson before her son could receive the significant scholarship.
“If they don’t bring Jodie back or get rid of other staff that cared for me, don’t expect any funding from me,” Walker said. “There isn’t any reason for me to give back. It is about the well-being of who we are. If the students don’t feel like they are being taken care of, why would they give back to an institution that they don’t feel like takes care of them?”
Walker said he is aware that the university is looking for more efficient ways to spend with its budget cuts, but he does not agree with the method.
While Johnson’s last day was Aug. 30, students and alumni are still trying to find ways to bring her back to the community.
“I would urge (the administration) to, if the decision is not fully made, reconsider,” Pulsifer said. “I want them to really consider the impact Jodie has had.”
Susan Kanarek, the graduate coordinator for the technical entrepreneurship program, is taking over Johnson’s responsibilities.