An Interview with Burns School Online Executive Masters Program Graduate and Professor Todd Johnson

Todd Johnson has seen it all. With over 25 years of experience, his career has covered everything from civil engineering to real estate, land development and even teaching. He is currently President of Terra Forma Solutions, Inc., a Colorado-based company strategically assisting its clients in providing innovative Solutions to real estate projects, while also serving as an Adjunct Faculty member at the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. We were able to sit down with Todd for an interview on his experience as a student and professor with the Online Executive Masters Program at the Burns School.

You had a long journey towards finally deciding upon a Masters Degree that worked for you. How did you ultimately make your decision?

When I was looking around for a masters degree, I looked at multiple programs. The big part that made it relevant for me was the online portion of it, because I didn’t have enough time to go to and from campus and then two to four hours in the class during the week. Even though that’s what it traditionally was. So, for me, it was really about looking for an online version. And this was back in ‘08 when I started to look. I put it off for a little bit and then I ran across the website for the Burns School Masters in Real Estate and the Built Environment. I started to look at the courses and I said: “This fits into exactly what I do right now, on a daily basis, in the real estate world and in land development.”

“It mattered to me to have that next level”

I was able to get into the executive program, which I think was key as well. They gave you credit for being a professional for 15 plus years or 20 plus years and so forth. You had to show them your experience or where you were in your career. I was pretty far along and I’ve always gotten into education. Although I don’t necessarily need the degrees to advance my career, it definitely helps and it mattered to me to have that next level.

That’s the most progressive track at Burns, isn’t it?

Yes. On that track you’re only doing one night a week of class and you’re doing it for two hours. It’s a more condensed version, perfect for working professionals because you can do it online at home.


So how did you make the transition from student to professor and do all professors in the program have practical field experience like you?

Once I graduated there was an opening that came up in Entitlement, Planning and Finance. I inquired and I said “Hey, I do this on a daily basis. I wouldn’t mind teaching this as well,” and they said: “Let’s do it.” Most of the adjuncts at DU are experts in the field and are really doing it on a daily basis. They said “you fall into our category of somebody we would go get to teach anyway”.  And so I started teaching. This is my second year of teaching. As a working professional I understand exactly what these students are going through as they try to balance work and education. For my students, if they aren’t able to make it because we’re all so busy, it’s important to be flexible. If they miss a class we record them and then we’re able to go back and review them together.

Do you teach online?

Yes, I do both. I teach online, I’m teaching now – this winter quarter – the Planning, Entitlement and Finance class and have taught Residential Development both online and on campus.

 

Do you like teaching online classes? Are there any drawbacks that you see?

The interaction is difficult because I like the interaction you get in class. But the difference with the executives is that they’re usually two or three steps above other master students because of the experience so there’s already a very good basis of where they are coming from. A lot of the dialog we engage in and go through is on a higher level and so you’re getting straight into the meat of the discussion.

“When I look back on the name recognition that DU gives you when you get out in the community, it’s heads and tails above other programs”

What was your relationship with Dr. Barbara Jackson, when you were a student?

I went and talked to Barb early on. I said I think the program is great and I have always had an itch teach, so if anything opens up please let me know. Then six months later this class opened up.

I think Barb is a great leader. She is go to in the industry and also from the teaching side of it, understanding where we can go and what really helps the department and program. Her vision is to move forward and set up new programs. Most things have advanced from the classroom setting to the online setting. She is thinking, well what else can we do? Seminars and certificates? She has the vision. She is always trying to step out and keep the program moving forward which I think you have to do in these times.


What are your thoughts on Drones? I know you have become a big proponent of their use within the industry.

Drones are a valuable and essential tool we use to help us not only visualize the built environment but more importantly provide safer conditions. Imagine watching a backhoe digging a trench and installing a water line rather than standing on the edge of the trench, or looking at a bolt connection on the outside corner of  the top floor of a 20-story building. In the teaching environment Drones can provide that visual link from the classroom to the field, especially today because students are more visually engaged in the learning process. This tool works hand in hand with our 3D-5D software being used by our industry designers on a daily basis. I relate Drones to my own personal experience: I started in the industry as a surveyor, laying out project elements and I was able to visualize the construction and the project so when I transitioned into the office performing civil engineering it was a snap for me to pick up the design and create more constructible designs, I think drones have a similar impact to our students and their future in planning and building our built environment.

 

What are your overall thoughts on the program at this point in your career?

It was a great experience for me. I loved it because I really enjoy the educational aspect. I could apply it right away. I really couldn’t have asked for anything better.