Veronica Wilkerson Johnson, AMLS ’77

Veronica Wilkerson Johnson and Desiree McLain, MSI ’18

One day Veronica Wilkerson Johnson brought a group of children to the Inkster Public Library. It was one of many places she had volunteered to take these children over the summer. 

She had just earned her bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism from Wayne State University. She was writing for local newspapers, which, she assumed, would be her life’s work.

That changed after meeting the head librarian, Josievet Moss (AMLS ‘74). As Moss watched Veronica interact with the children, she was impressed. “She asked who I was,” Veronica says, “and where I was going to grad school.”

Veronica wasn’t sure, she replied; she planned to travel a bit first. Moss urged Veronica to consider a degree in library science, information or computer technology at UMSI. A fellowship was available, and “if you’re interested, I will vouch for you,” Moss said. 

Veronica was flattered but deferred politely. In the weeks that followed, Moss called again, successfully urging her to apply. 

“I was accepted immediately and my whole world changed,” she says. “At UMSI, I was interspersed with doctoral students and people of all professions, backgrounds and interests. And they were all brilliant.”

Today, Veronica, is director of U-M’s Lansing Service Center in the Office of the Vice President of Government Relations. Recently she decided to return Moss’ favor by offering UMSI students a similar opportunity. 

She has established the UMSI Dr. Veronica Wilkerson Johnson Diversity Internship Award. It supports students who cannot afford to accept career-building internship opportunities in major urban areas. 

This year saw the award’s first recipient, MSI graduate student Desiree McLain. She was an intern at Atlantic Impact, a Detroit organization that offers community youth entrepreneurial training, field trips and global travel.

"I am so very thankful to Veronica for this special gift! With her assistance, I was able to take advantage of this exciting internship that provides Detroit high school students with life-changing study abroad and entrepreneurship experiences," Desiree says.

“Desiree is a real go-getter,” Veronica says. “I’m so excited about what she has experienced and will surely accomplish in the future.” 

Born in Detroit, Veronica currently lives in East Lansing. She grew up in, and is a booster for, Inkster, a Detroit suburb. As the adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and Veronica credits Inkster, and those who were her role models. They were the village that nurtured her and her comrades. 

Veronica's parents were major role models. Her mother, Alberta, was a first generation college graduate who became a renowned nurse.

As a child, Veronica learned to play piano and viola – and loved to sing, something she still does for her church choir, one of her passions. She and her husband Melvin have three children.

After earning her AMLS (she later earned a PhD in Education from Ferris State University), Veronica has enjoyed an impressive, exciting career. Among other roles, she was the Library Director in Inkster and government relations specialist for the State Library of Michigan. Her passionate advocacy for the library led to a role as legislative liaison to Michigan Governor James Blanchard. She was also chief legislative aide to State Representative Hansen Clarke.

Veronica’s desire to help people and communities shows in her service on several boards and commissions, and all the time she spends at the State Capitol. 

All of this evolved into her role now at U-M’s Lansing Service Center, one she is “honored” to have, she says. “It gives me the chance to give back to the community and to my alma mater.”

Giving back is an understatement. Veronica has helped improve dialogue between the University’s many departments, state government and state leaders; served on the UM Greater Lansing Alumni Board; and helped recruit mid-Michigan students. 

She has introduced U-M’s Robotic Institute students (and their robot, “Cassie Blue,”) to the Michigan Legislature, and she co-conducts the Michigan Road Scholars program which UMSI Research Assistant Professor Christopher Brooks and other UMSI faculty have experienced. 

She also helped develop the Wolverine Caucus program, “one of the roles I am most proud of,” she says. This monthly forum series brings U-M faculty to Lansing to speak on substantive state government issues. Lansing-based U-M alumni and policy makers “very much value this opportunity,” Veronica says. 

Clearly, all of Veronica’s work makes an impact. But perhaps equal to that is her personality. Whatever anyone needs at U-M – and in Michigan, for that matter – she can’t help quickly enough, always with an enthusiastic smile. Obviously, she loves every single minute of her role at this UM outpost in the state capitol.  

“Whether it’s bringing technology experts to Lansing to aid state and local officials on infrastructure concerns,” she says, “or bringing U-M art students and their lovely work to adorn the halls of the state legislature, I’m always excited to represent and expand awareness and engagement with the University of Michigan.” 

 

Sheryl James, UMSI PR Specialist