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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

URI graduate performing at his peak

Carter Johnson wins research grant
at University of Cambridge

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 3, 2003 -- University of Rhode Island alumnus (William) Carter Johnson of West Kingston knows a great deal about performance. In fact, he teaches at high performance driving schools around the country, showing members of high-end car clubs how to safely negotiate laps at 80 to 100 miles per hour.

Johnson’s own road to academic success includes a near stall out and a few potholes. Yet it has led to graduate school this fall at the prestigious University of Cambridge in England. Currently the floor manager at the University Club on the Kingston campus, Johnson has just been awarded a Prize Research Grant from the Centre for Economics and History at Cambridge where he will spend nine months pursuing a master’s degree in history.

Cambridge is a long way from Foster, R.I. where Johnson spent his early years. Recognized as a gifted student, Johnson performed well at school. However, after moving to South County and enrolling in South Kingstown High School, his academics took a nosedive.

"I didn’t transition well," says the 25-year-old. "I shut down. I didn’t fit into the mode of mass produced education. School isn’t tailored to the individual, to a student having difficulties."

After graduating from high school, Johnson got his own apartment and worked at low-end jobs for three years. He began to believe in himself and decided to conform to the educational system to earn a college degree.

But before he was accepted at URI, he had to establish a track record. Carter attended the Community College of Rhode Island for one year and earned straight A’s. "I embraced it," he says.

At URI, Johnson majored in history, a subject that had always interested him. "The best advice my father gave me was to do what I would enjoy the rest of my life," he says. While at URI he became a mentor in the Mentor-Tutor Internship program, a peer mentoring initiative created by Al Killilea, professor of political science, designed to help students in local schools from feeling isolated and dropping out. Johnson mentored elementary students as well as students at his high school alma mater --students, like himself, who needed someone to listen to them, someone to help keep them on track. "The experience helped me realize it wasn’t just me. There is a problem in public education," he says, suggesting that such mentor programs can help fill a gap.

When he graduated from URI in 2002, he won the President’s Student Excellence Award in History, designed to honor superior academic achievement. "I went from last in my class at South Kingstown High School to first in my class at URI," Johnson says with some amazement and lots of pride.

At Cambridge, Johnson will focus his research on the development of grand prix technology between World Wars I and II, a time when Germany became dominant in auto racing and in cutting edge technology. Heavily funded by the German government, cars manufactured by Auto-Union (now known as Audi) and Mercedes Benz became unbeatable. Johnson wants to shine light on the often overlooked shadow of Nazism and slave labor in work camps that put the Germans in the lead.

Johnson hopes to stay on at Cambridge to pursue a doctorate and eventually teach at a college level. "I want to be a professor," he says. "I know I can motivate students and excite them about learning. I have the love of scholarship and an enormous curiosity. I would love the freedom to continue my studies."

Johnson comes from a family of educators. His father, William C. Johnson II, teaches anatomy and chemistry at both URI and CCRI. His grandfather, Robert Lepper, taught botany and was dean of URI’s College of Arts and Sciences. His grandmother, Rita Lepper, taught art at CCRI, and his mother, Frances L. Johnson, teaches science at Burrillville Middle School.

As much as he would like the academic life, Johnson says his ideal job would be an automotive historian for a car company that has a historic motor sports program, companies such as Porsche or Audi. Chances, he says, would be slim for someone who isn’t German born. But he’d like to try getting such a career. After all, his engines are revving and the checkered flag is waving.


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Page last revised Thursday, September 4, 2003 .