Faculty and Staff Public Health

Getting to Know Tonya Johnson

woman poses in front of city skyline

By Kathryn Stroppel

Starting a new job during a pandemic would challenge the most seasoned professional. But Tonya Johnson is thriving – and most importantly, so are her students. Every MPH student who planned to complete a spring internship are doing so. 

“That is incredible to me,” she says, “and speaks to the caliber of our students and MPH program, as well as the true commitment of our community partners. It’s an honor to be a part of this!”  

Tonya has nearly 25 years of experience working in community health in Oregon, Washington and New York City. For more than eight years, she served as a Family and Community Health faculty member with the OSU Extension Service in Marion and Polk counties. In that role, she worked with community partners on a variety of health initiatives and served as a preceptor for more than 50 interns.  

In her new role, which also includes serving as manager of internship operations for the college, she supports students throughout their internship, including helping them identify sites, develop learning objectives, navigate challenges and conduct their internship in real-world work settings. She also fosters community partnerships to ensure internship opportunities are available now and into the future.  

What made you decide to get into this field? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path? 

I’ve always enjoyed learning about health, people and communities. I’ve been fortunate to work for several years in a variety of capacities related to public health prevention. I found the most rewarding part of my work was engaging with students to help them experience public health in action, and all the messiness that comes with it!  

So, you can imagine my excitement when this position came along. It’s such a great blend of my interests and experiences. I’m really enjoying the position and working with everyone at OSU.  

What do you love about your work? What energizes you? 

Public health is at the core of humanity. There is strong science to it, and there is also the art in how things work in communities. I love helping students experience the intersection of this.   

Why did you choose to work at Oregon State? 

I love Oregon, and I love public health. Thus, Oregon State University is a natural fit. I also value the community-engaged work of OSU and its Extension Service and am excited to be a part of that.    

What’s the best thing about working in the CPHHS? 

Being a part of a thoughtful, diverse team of faculty, staff, students and community partners who deeply cares about student success, as well as working toward improving health for all people.   

What are you most proud of in your work so far?  

I started as the MPH Internship Coordinator on March 9, one week before the university-wide COVID-19 response. Since that time, I have been most proud of the coming together of administration, faculty, students and community partners to find ways to continue to offer valuable applied practice experiences for our students this spring and summer.  

One hundred percent of the MPH students who planned to complete a spring internship are doing so!  

How do you strive to affect people’s lives with your work? 

It is my hope to impact lives by supporting students in gaining real-world experience that launches them on a positive career trajectory. 

What is one surprising thing about you that not many people know? 

Shhh! I love to drive fast, except of course when I’m driving my 1984 VW Westfalia campervan named Abby. She’s a beauty!   

What are your favorite activities outside of work? 

I enjoy spending time outside and with family and friends. I especially like farmers markets, camping, hiking, exploring places by foot, live performance arts and learning about others.