Staff Spotlight: Michael Johnson
International Partnerships and Export Control Administrator
Even though he has one of the driest titles imaginable, Michael Johnson is always up for a joke, a song, an office party, or a spot-on impression (his Hannibal Lecter is so good that it will send chills down your spine).
Born in Oklahoma, Michael’s family regularly moved throughout the southwest—mainly Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico—while he was growing up. As a consequence, Michael learned how to make friends quickly. His father was a pilot with U.S. Army Reconnaissance during the Vietnam War (in fact, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross), and when the war ended he returned to the U.S. with a Vietnamese orphan in his arms, a baby girl that he and his wife named Susan. Susan was the first of six children—four adopted children (the couple would go on to adopt another girl from Vietnam, a young Hispanic boy who had spent most of his first six years in foster care, and an African American/Native American baby girl)—plus two biological children (Michael and his older sister Amy). Michael describes the household as being a bit like a tiny United Nations, and given his interesting background it’s no wonder that Michael makes friends easily and has a natural affinity for international education.
After retiring from the military, Michael’s father became a Methodist minister and continued to move his large brood around the country—not unlike the circuit preachers of an earlier day. His mother was a seamstress, so her job skills were portable, and one time the family actually stayed in one place long enough for her to run the public library in the small West Texas town of Van Horn.
After graduating from Lubbock High School where he played percussion in the band, Michael joined the Navy. After his stint in the military, he enrolled in Texas Tech on the G.I. Bill, receiving a BA in Russian Language and Area Studies and a minor in International Studies and History. Dr. David Snead, a professor of Military and Diplomatic History when Michael was an undergraduate, made history so exciting that Michael decided to pursue a Master’s in Russian History. Before coming to Texas Tech, the only history teachers he had known were small town coaches who routinely made their students read the textbook and answer the questions at the end of the chapter—hardly inspiring fare. Dr. Snead (now at Liberty University) and others in the History Dept. showed him that it was actually one of the most fascinating subjects imaginable.
In the fall of 2002 Michael received a prestigious NSEP Scholarship to study language, culture, politics and history at GRINT Centre, located within the Moscow State University for the Humanities in Moscow. He returned after one semester in order to marry Lara, his fiancée. Michael taught History in Levelland High School, but the couple soon left their West Texas home so that Lara could accept a medical fellowship at Yale. While in Connecticut, Michael was hired as an adjunct instructor of History and Western Civilization at the University of New Haven, a job he thoroughly loved. The couple also had their second child, a daughter, during this period, and Michael’s former students provided a box of soil from home to place beside the hospital bed so that the baby could legitimately claim to have been born over Texas soil. Their children, Keegan and Gwendolyn, are now eleven and six, Lara has a faculty position in Pediatrics at TTUHSC, and Michael is ensconced at the Office of International Affairs. For a boy who grew up moving from town to town every couple of years, he has put down roots in Lubbock and is happy to call it home.
What is Export Control and why do people at Texas Tech need to know about it?
“Export Controls are federal regulations that impose access, dissemination or participation restrictions on the transfer of items and information regulated for reasons of national security, foreign policy, anti-terrorism or non-proliferation.” In layman’s terms, this means that a university has an obligation to control the export of sensitive information and materials outside the borders of the United States.
However, it is important to remember that this “export” can happen in a variety of ways. Physically taking or shipping certain materials to specific countries, sharing sensitive information with the wrong people in a foreign country, allowing the wrong people into research labs, or even sharing sensitive information with foreign nationals inside the United States (perhaps during a campus visit!) could all be “deemed” an export and a violation of federal law.
Fortunately, TTU has put a lot of effort into simplifying the process for adhering to these laws. For those traveling outside the United States, we screen for EC compliance as a part of the International Travel Application for a seamless paperwork experience. For those here at TTU hosting an international visitor we have created an easy system for requesting screening for those visitors. That information can be found at the following link: We work very closely with the Office of the Vice President for Research to ensure compliance when TTU conducts international research. Moreover, we are always trying to develop better ways to improve these processes in our constant attempts to limit red tape.