Day in the Life: Emily Johnson, Honors Assessment Director

You’ve previously seen a few blogs from members of our Honors Student Staff, but with our first summer Note to Self, we’re going to give you a perspective from one of our newest Honors Professional Staff members, Emily Johnson. We’re all keeping busy here at Honors at Iowa over the summer, but Emily gave us an excellent look at what she does during the academic year back in March, an incredibly hectic time at the Blank Honors Center.

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“Wonder how self-discovery applies to you? It’s not just your major. It’s all the things that will keep you sane throughout your life as well.”

Monday, March 21

A day in the life of an assessment director is difficult to express in chronological fashion, because the sheer number of Excel and Access databases would instantly put most people to sleep. My big project today is finalizing clearance for University Honors. This process alone involves about a dozen different databases. I’ve been individually evaluating almost 200 students, with lots of help from my colleagues since I’m still learning about Honors here. Because this is one thing we need to get absolutely right, I have reviewed some of these 200 students up to four or five times each.

Hard work has to be balanced with mental breaks (a hard lesson from my early professional life). One way I allow myself those breaks is by varying the projects I work on throughout the day. Today, that means designing the PSP election ballots for next year’s executive board and meeting with PSP leadership during their weekly meeting.

The rest of the balance that keeps the hard work going pretty much boils down to three things:  fuel, breaks, and wins. These things take up a small portion of my time, but make the rest of my time here run smoothly.

Wonder how self-discovery applies to you? It’s not just your major. It’s all the things that will keep you sane throughout your life as well. I love working with data, so much so that I’m in a master’s program in which the entire first course debated the question, “What is information?”. (Short answer:  It’s all the things. And then some.) But if I tried to do data for nine hours straight every day, things would not go well.


Fuel required today:

  • Daily coffee in my Wizard of Oz travel mug – The Wizard of Oz has been my favorite movie since I was a kid, and my nephews even call me Auntie Em. (My older niece refuses, because her name is Emma and she doesn’t think I deserve sole claim of the “Em” syllable. The other niece is too young to talk, but she’ll come around.)
  • Two cups of tea – That’s 1-2 more than usual! I stayed up way too late to watch UNI ultimately lose to what FiveThirtyEight claims was a 1-in-3000 comeback. They even said this game topped what is legend where I’m from: Illinois’s 2005 comeback against Arizona. (Cue the YouTube video that resurfaces among Illinois fans at this time every year.) Ouch. I was pulling for the Panthers.
  • About 30 minutes of Pandora radio – By 4:30pm, I needed a little extra boost for that last half hour. Today the shuffle included the Alabama Shakes, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (Just got tickets to see them at Codfish Hollow!!! So excited!), Fiona Apple, A Tribe Called Quest, My Morning Jacket, and Gnarls Barkley stations.

Today’s breaks:

  • I scanned FiveThirtyEight headlines and noted what I want to read later (~5 minutes). This is one of my favorite websites, because it processes the news through DATA! I know, I’m supposed to be temporarily escaping data, but I love the way they approach topics like economics, politics, and sports. See: story about March Madness linked above, although my real love is baseball. This is one of very few days that I didn’t read about Cubs prospects and/or spring training during lunch, because…
  • I walked to RSVP with Jessica and Lindsay and looked at quirky stationery for awhile. I’m still learning the area, so I’ll take you up on just about any offer to see a new place. Speaking of which…
  • I got my first lunch from The High Ground Café on our way back. I’ve been using my weekends to pack my apartment in the Quad Cities, so I’ve been really bad about packing lunches for Mondays. It’s a great excuse to go out and explore restaurants here, though! Current favorites are Nodo and Oasis. Suggestions welcome.
  • I started Ian McEwan’s new short story (~10 minutes while I ate my lunch). He’s my favorite contemporary author, and I usually devour anything he publishes ASAP.
  • I found a yoga class for after work on Yogaglo (~5 minutes). I’m a certified instructor, but I love taking classes (in person or virtual) from as many other teachers as I can. Being a student makes one a better teacher. (Deep, right?)


Today’s win: Lindsay let me know that ICRU could secure an extra $15,000 in extra research support for students because of some info that we pulled last week! It’s one small reason why I love data and databases as much as I love my fuel and breaks.

With so many interesting qualities, Emily’s multi-faceted personality makes her an excellent addition to our Honors Professional Staff. To learn more about Emily and her wicked data wins, visit her staff profile at


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