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Geologist Rocks Into Role as Dean

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Ever since she was a young girl, Marie Johnson has been fascinated with rocks.

Inside her office in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, she displays some of her favorites: franklinite, a mineral found only at Franklin Mine, New Jersey, that fluoresces under black light; a giant garnet from Gore Mountain in upstate New York; and a jar of garnets she collected when she was 8 years old.

Johnson, the college’s new dean, focuses on a branch of geology called petrology — the study and analysis of rocks. “As a small child, I was drawn to nature and all its amazing variety.”

When she drove 3,000 miles across the country with her 16-year-old nephew this summer to move from New York to Fullerton, she had to scale-down her rock collection, but still has some rocks in her new home, ”as any self-respecting geologist would.”

Johnson stepped into her new position as dean July 1, following a 21-year teaching career at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and her doctorate from Brown University — both in geological sciences.

Since 2008, she served as the director of West Point’s environmental program and was instrumental in invigorating the environmental science major. At CSUF, she looks forward to working with colleagues on such issues as sustainability, climate change and renewable energy.

Her research interests include environmental security, an emerging, interdisciplinary field that focuses on how chaos, conflict and violence may be exacerbated by degraded environments such as areas with no drinkable water, food or energy sources on which to build an economy, or that experience high incidences of infectious disease.

“Degraded environments breed a lack of hope for the future and thus provide fertile ground for the seeds of terrorism,” she said. “Perhaps you can prevent conflict by addressing a population’s immediate environmental needs. I find it stimulating to study this relationship between the environment and conflict in light of today’s world.”

It was a difficult decision to leave West Point, admitted Johnson, who also coached the Army’s women’s lacrosse team for 15 years. But she is excited about her new leadership role and is ready for the challenges and opportunities it will bring.

“I’m thrilled to be here. I believe education provides a way forward for all, and I wanted to work for an institution committed to the principles of diversity, inclusion and equity, which Cal State Fullerton certainly is.”

Her goals for the college are simple: To provide an education that prepares students for graduate school or the job market and gives them the skills to become active, engaged citizens.

“I’d like to see students develop lifelong habits of intellectual curiosity and truth-seeking,” she said. “I also want to ensure that they graduate on time, feel good about their major and are prepared for the challenges ahead.”

For faculty and staff members, she wants to keep morale high, ensure their voices are heard and that they are included in decision-making processes.

The New York Giants fan, who plays electric guitar — she was in a rock ‘n roll band back East — considers relocating a new adventure: “I never want to grow old and complacent. Moving across the country to a state where I didn’t know a single soul and engaging with new colleagues and students is tremendously life-affirming.”