Campus News

Why UK Staff Member Grace Johnson Has the 'Heart to Step Up'

Grace Johnson
Grace Johnson works as director of the UK Visitor Center. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 28, 2021) — What makes UK the university of, for and with Kentucky? 

The answer is our people.  

We are a community full of individuals who sacrifice for the greater good. During the past year, those sacrifices have been magnified as the University of Kentucky continued its missions of teaching, service, research and healing. There are so many people who worked behind the scenes to make the impossible, possible. In this UKNow series, we hope to honor some of those employees who had the “Heart to Step Up,” despite the many obstacles presented to them while working during a global pandemic. 

This month we talk to Grace Johnson, who works as director of the UK Visitor Center. 

UKNow: What is your role here at UK?

Johnson: I serve as the director at the UK Visitor Center. Our office manages the campus visit experience for prospective students and other campus guests, as well as supports recruitment efforts in the Office of Undergraduate Admission. Our student tour guides serve as the “first face” of UK and play an important role in welcoming potential Wildcats to campus.

UKNow: What’s the best part about your job?  

Johnson: That’s so tough! There’s no better feeling than seeing a student arrive for orientation that you met when they came to visit campus for the first time. Getting to participate in a student’s journey to UK is a real honor. But I have to say that getting to work every day with our staff of student tour guides is the biggest gift. They are such an incredibly special group of students who love this university so very much!

UKNow: How did your role change due to COVID-19? 

Johnson: Well, I immediately had to figure out a way to “move” our physical office that usually hosts about 6,000 guests over the months of March and April to a completely virtual space, but still provide the same level of information and customer service that prospective students and guests are accustomed to receiving from the UK Visitor Center. Once we got comfortable in the virtual space, it was time to come back to campus, and figure out a way to offer our traditional visit experience in a way that kept our guests and staff safe, while also keeping up our virtual visits as well. My student leadership team was crucial in coming up with creative ways to engage students who were comfortable coming to campus, along with those that weren’t able to make the trip to Lexington. When we returned to campus on Aug. 3, 2020, my role was — all things considered — pretty “normal.” I was still directing the Visitor Center — just a physical one and virtual one at the same time!

UKNow: If you could tell yourself one thing pre-COVID, what would it be?

Johnson: I think I would remind myself to never hold back appreciation from those that help you along the way. I think navigating through this “COVID world” has really reiterated the importance of gratitude and making sure that your people feel valued and appreciated. I know my student tour guides are tired of me saying this, but THANK YOU for being who you are! You each work so hard, you bring so much to our office, and you are so important. You all are my absolute sunshine.

UKNow: What inspired you during this past year?

Johnson: The student tour guides — 100%, no question. I don’t think I can overstate how crucial they were to Enrollment Management and Undergraduate Admissions this year. While many campus offices and units remained remote or conducted duties via hybrid operations, these students showed up to the Visitor Center every single day with a smile on their faces (albeit behind a mask!), excited to show our campus to prospective Wildcats and their guests. They looked out for each other, walked with each other through difficult seasons, and regularly went above and beyond to help our office continue to provide great service to our campus guests.

UKNow: What did you learn about yourself and/or your community this past year? 

Johnson: We can accomplish quite a lot if we’re willing to do it together. I am very thankful for the campus community that rallied to make sure we could offer a safe residential experience for our students! Go Cats! 

We hope to highlight different employees from across campus in the “Heart to Step Up” series. If you know someone who went above and beyond during this past year, please email us

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.