“My dad was active with the environmental organization Sierra Club, and I began volunteering with them, too. I learned about the impacts of withdrawing water from local streams, which can reduce water quality, and discharging flowback, and I knew I wanted to work in that area that for my career,” said Johnson.
At Penn State, he felt that the environmental systems engineering major in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences would provide opportunities for him to pursue the career he was passionate about. The major also exposed him to classes and information that helped him see multiple perspectives on the energy industry.
“As a society we need energy, but we also need to generate energy responsibly. I wanted to find a job that involved the environment and industry regulations, which is why I chose this degree. I’ve been able to take many courses that are applicable to what I want to do,” he said.
A new way to manage waste in Panama
As a student, Johnson served as president of Environmental Brigades, a Penn State chapter of Global Brigades focused on the environment. He led several groups on service trips to help rural communities in Panama, and he also was selected for a summer 2014 internship with the international Global Brigades organization. As a sustainable development intern, Johnson helped brainstorm new programs that the international organization could implement on the ground. His focus was waste management.
“For my internship, I went to Panama for a month to see what the communities would need and what we could realistically accomplish in a one-week service trip,” he said. “One of the big issues we saw was that there are no waste management systems in many rural areas. In many cases, trash is either burned, which can let off harmful fumes, or thrown in rivers.”