News & Events

Student Journey: From Oblivious to Enlightened


Nina Johnson described herself as “shy and oblivious” upon her arrival to the Drake State campus last year. Today, you wouldn’t know it based upon her accomplishments and campus involvement to date.


Ms. Johnson is a Culinary Arts major at J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College.  Just recently, she was awarded Regions Bank’s Riding Forward Scholarship for 2014.  Each year Regions chooses one high school student to receive a $5,000 scholarship, and one college student to receive a $2500 scholarship from each of the 16 states it serves, awarding 32 scholarships total. To be eligible, each participant must submit an essay about an African-American individual who inspired them.  


Following her passion, Ms. Johnson chose to write about Chef Edna Lewis. Growing up working in the kitchen alongside her mother and aunts, Ms. Johnson developed a keen interest in Culinary Arts. Chef Lewis’ accomplishments with fresh foods, southern cuisine, and her work to teach and encourage aspiring young female chefs inspired Ms. Johnson to become a chef. 


“More than just a great student, Nina is a glowing example of what can be accomplished personally and professionally when students commit to changing their lives and community through higher education,” remarked Dr. John Reutter, Acting President of Drake State, during Ms. Johnson’s Regions Scholarship award presentation. “I remember when she first walked into my office, uncertain of her chances to succeed. She has come a long way from those days and I am very proud of her.”


After completing her degree here at Drake State, Ms. Johnson’s plan is to go on to graduate from a four-year institution with a degree in Food Science. “After reading a cookbook called the The Taste of Country Cooking, I had to find out more about who the master was behind these amazing recipes,” says Ms. Johnson. “Knowing that Chef Lewis and I came from a slightly similar upbringing in the kitchen, and being an African-American women, I then saw that anything is truly possible.” Ultimately, Ms. Johnson plans to pursue a career either in Hospitality Management or work for the USDA.


Is Ms. Johnson still shy and oblivious?  Apparently she has managed to overcome this state of mind and is quite aware, literally “plugged in” to the benefits her relationship with Drake State affords her academic mission. 

Case in point: Ms. Johnson is heavily involved in the TRiO program, which provides support and guidance to students who are the first generation in their family to pursue higher education.  Ms. Johnson identifies TRiO as another force behind her academic accomplishments, including maintaining a “B” average.


“Honestly, I had no intention of participating in anything in college because my stress level from graduating high school was so high,” states Ms. Johnson. Her greatest obstacles so far have been managing financial and family challenges while maintaining a strong GPA.  In conjunction to these trials, Ms. Johnson battled to recover from a car accident that left her recuperating from injuries, while struggling to meet a busy schedule without reliable transportation.  Yet, through it all, Ms. Johnson bravely persevered; and thanks to TRiO Services, a student support program, her outlook for college was amended. “They were very enthusiastic, and believed that I could accomplish anything if I put my mind to it.” 


Another one of Ms. Johnson’s latest successes involves being selected to make a scholarly presentation, as a representative of the Drake State TRiO program, at the Council for Opportunity in Education's 33rd Annual Conference: “Achieving College Success through Vision and Action,” scheduled in Washington, D.C. next month. Participation and visibility at this event is quite significant as our nation’s Congressmen and other Washington D.C. dignitaries will be in attendance. Ms. Johnson was one of a handful of students selected to address this important audience, once again confirming that she is no longer “oblivious,” but now enlightened.

Pictured in the photo above: (left) Mr. Ron Poteat, Regions Bank North Alabama Area President; Dr. John Reutter, Acting President Drake State; and Ms. Nina Johnson.

For more information on Ms. Johnson, TRiO Services or Drake State, please contact Yibeli Baird at 256-551-3136 or via email at

Back to News Listing