Jen Johnsen: From dorms to degrees

For a freshman hanging posters on their dorm walls, being a successful school alum can feel a world away. However, there are so many Minnesota State alumni to look up to for inspiration. 

One such example is fall semester of 2004 Alum Jen Johnsen, who graduated with a degree in theater performance and directing. Her first day on campus, she felt overwhelmed and journaled her feelings. 

Soon, though, she settled on campus. 

“My first couple weeks there, I was really, really excited and felt like I was on the right path. I was interested in everything. I could do whatever I wanted, go (wherever I wanted), stay up late; I didn’t really have rules. I was on my own. It was all overwhelming. I just took one thing at a time.” 

However, Johnsen also had blank spaces that weren’t filled in her plan for the future.  

“The hope was to be a working actor. I guess I didn’t really have a clear idea of what that was. I knew I liked theater and I wanted to do that, and I needed to go to college. I pursued this passion for the arts.” 

Today, Johnsen is the Executive Assistant at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Her role entails administrative support of the artistic director and managing director, organizing events, and volunteering. 

The Children’s Theatre Company is designed to provide a space for youth to, “create extraordinary theater experiences that educate, challenge and inspire young people and their communities,” according to the company’s mission statement. 

Johnsen has been in her position for roughly 10 years and still loves it, despite the fact that it is not what her freshman self had in mind. 

“The majority of people that I’m still friends with who [attended MSU] have gone on to have careers outside of theater, but in the same vein. (The theater department is) full of so many transferable skills.”

A concept that Johnsen urges MSU students to understand is that change is OK. 

“There wasn’t a lot of on-the-job training, or job-related training for a future job I didn’t know I wanted at the time,” Johnsen said, “I was focused on being an actor. For that focus, (the degree) was amazing.” 

“Everything you’ve learned up to this point is important and doesn’t have to fit into the peg you wanted it to fit in,” she said. “Be open to the other shape of peg. Your experiences brought you this far and all of that experience is transferable to whatever you want.” 

“A lot of what I do now is deep organization and planning and communication – all that stuff (is) rooted in the education that I got, because all of those things encompass a theater degree,” said Johnsen, “You have to be the collaborator. The skills I learned at MSU carried over into every position I’ve had leading up to this one. “ 

No matter what year in school, it is important to remember that growth will continue to blossom, and that learning to adapt will be the true key to success. 

Write to Lilly Schmidt at lillyschmidt1126@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.