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James H. Johnson Jr., a distinguished economic development and impact researcher and demographer, will speak at the December Commencement ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt will preside at the Dec. 14 ceremony at 2 p.m. in the Dean E. Smith Center. She selected Johnson, the William R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Kenan-Flagler Business School and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center in the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, in consultation with the Commencement Speaker Selection Committee, which includes students and faculty.

His selection continues Carolina’s tradition of highlighting outstanding faculty as speakers at the December Commencement.

“Jim Johnson’s inspiring work has opened doors for underserved populations in North Carolina and beyond,” said Folt. “His research on changing demographics is shaping the way communities and businesses plan for the future and guides how we keep our economy competitive in the global market. He is a visionary teacher and trusted mentor, and we are fortunate to have his leadership at Carolina.”

In addition to his duties at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Johnson also serves as a senior research fellow at the Carolina Population Center and an adjunct professor of public policy, sociology and geography.

Currently, Johnson researches the economic and employment impact of white-collar job shifts offshore on U.S. competitiveness through his professorship at UNC Kenan-Flagler. He has published more than 100 scholarly articles and three research monographs as well as coauthored several books.

Johnson grew up around the tobacco fields of Farmville, North Carolina, where his parents encouraged his education. He graduated from N.C. Central University summa cum laude in only three years, went on to receive his master’s from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. The University of California-Los Angeles recruited Johnson to work in their geography department, later granting him a full professorship exploring poverty in urban America. Johnson joined the UNC faculty as the E. Maynard Adams Professor of Geography in 1992 and accepted a Kenan Professorship at UNC Kenan-Flagler in 1998.

Johnson coauthored the book “The Economic Impact of the African American Population on the State of North Carolina” with John D. Karsarda, who was integral in recruiting Johnson to Carolina. He has also published a study on the economic impact of North Carolina’s Hispanic population. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Russell Sage Foundation supported Johnson’s publishing of research on the economic impact of the attacks on U.S. metropolitan communities.

He is a founding member and chairs the board for the Global Scholars Academy (GSA) in Durham, a year-round kindergarten through eighth grade school aimed at providing smaller class sizes and higher academic performances. The school is a brainchild of Johnson’s with programs and classes beginning at 7:30 a.m. and running through 6 p.m., including weekend activities to ensure that the students have the chance to succeed. Simple necessities such as providing breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day makes a difference in the lives of the children, but it is also the outreach opportunities that arguably touch the children’s lives.

Johnson sends 120 MBA students from UNC Kenan-Flagler to the academy every year to mentor children at GSA. The idea came from his decade-long collaboration with researchers on the MacArthur Foundation Network on Successful Pathways Through Childhood where Johnson realized at-risk youths who do succeed have access to meditating institutions – mentoring programs like the Boys and Girls Club – and have a positive adult presence in their lives that connect with the children outside of their typical environment of school and home. Johnson also brings students from GSA to UNC-Chapel Hill for activities, including building bikes with MBA students in this past August.

More on Johnson.

By Helen Buchanan, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Published November 17, 2014; Updated December 8, 2014