Getting to Know Our New CEO: Dr. Karen Johnson

Photo of Dr. Karen Johnson

We have been thrilled to announce that Dr. Karen Johnson is the incoming CEO of New Pathways for Youth. She comes to New Pathways from a long and impactful career in education and development, including leading several important Valley nonprofits and serving twenty-seven years as Vice President of University Relations at Midwestern University. Dr. Johnson is the ideal person to lead us in realizing our vision of serving more young people in our community than ever before. To get to know her better, we asked some serious (and some not-so-serious) questions. Here’s what we learned:

What was it that most appealed to you about taking the helm at NPFY?

It became clear to me that the people at New Pathways are passionate about the mission and they “walk the talk” of their shared values and commitment. The care of the search committee in asking challenging questions and in providing thoughtful responses reflected the integrity of both the organization and the process. In addition to the great people, the data-driven program and its results are impressive. It was easy to understand why it is so critical to expand the program to reach even more youth in our community. That combination—amazing people, compelling mission, and outstanding results—are a powerful motivation. I can’t wait to get to work on meeting our shared goals.

What’s the one personal or professional experience that most shaped you for this role?

I am the daughter of a teacher, my first job out of college was teaching, and I spent 27 years in university administration—so education and young people are near and dear to my heart. At Midwestern University, I was involved in growing the degree offerings from one to now more than 20; from 600 students to now more than 7,000. I have experience in growth and expansion, in recruitment, and in fundraising and development. I know how to lead interdisciplinary teams of professionals. All of those skills will be important as we work to expand the program at New Pathways.

What would you say to students, donors, or mentors thinking about investing their time or money with NPFY?

I honestly can’t think of a greater investment than in transforming lives. Every young person has a lifetime of opportunities ahead when they believe anything is possible for their lives. Nothing could be more gratifying than being part of a community that is committed to empowering that kind of change.

In the future, when people talk about your legacy at NPFY, what would you like them to say?

My legacy will be the hard work we do as a team to expand the impact of New Pathways. I hope that I will be remembered for being honest, for acting with integrity, for always listening and learning, and for being a passionate advocate for the mission of the organization.

What’s your absolute favorite food?

I love to travel, and nothing beats fresh pasta in Italy, followed by a scoop or two of gelato. Pizza comes in a close third.

Do you have any pets?

I have four—rescue dog Jacob (6), golden retriever Edward (2), and feline sisters Sambuca and Tequila (13). They have their own Instagram account with over 5,600 followers (@sassytails87). 

What show on streaming TV did you binge-watch embarrassingly fast?

“Bridgerton” in a weekend. And I’m not the least bit embarrassed by it.


We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Dr. Johnson (and her pets!) to the team, to work with her in guiding youth as they discover renewed outlooks on life and realize unwritten possibilities for their futures.