Bill Johnson, student success coordinator for the School of Health and Human Sciences (HHS), is known as the Dream Dean. Now Johnson, a certified dream coach, has realized a dream of his own.

Johnson’s proposal for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Momentum Advising Challenge is one of only nine selected from 76 applications that came in from across the country. He will travel to Seattle Sept. 18-20 to represent UNCG at the Advising Challenge summit. There, he will share his ideas with colleagues, and about 300 grantors who support instruction.

“It’s overwhelming and exciting at the same time,” says Johnson. “It’s a fantastic opportunity and it promotes UNCG in a great light.”

The Gates Foundation works with global partners to tackle several critical issues, including the betterment of education in the U.S. Proposals for the Advising Challenge were chosen based on three key areas — mentoring, incorporation of life skills and measures of success.

Johnson’s proposal sums up some of the ideas he uses with students in HHS. He calls his plan “Make College Matter.”

“Make College Matter” focuses on five key ingredients for success — Story, Art, Vision, Allies, and Resilience (SAVAR). Johnson created a one-credit course for first-year HHS students that he runs as a group coaching session. The course is designed to help students explore what they want to achieve in their careers and their lives.

The results show in the statistics, Johnson says. The five-year graduation rate for the Fall 2008 class from HHS was 61 percent, about 12 percent higher than the university average.

“We’re asking students to think about why they’re here and to plan for their future,” he says. “That’s the message I specialize in.”

Johnson’s role as a life coach for students is a rarity in higher education. HHS Dean Celia Hooper knows of only one other person in higher education with a vision like Johnson’s — Andy Chan, Wake Forest University’s vice president for personal and career development, “the only known cabinet-level career development professional in higher education.”

Hooper says Johnson enables HHS students to “dream big.”

“When we hired Bill more than five years ago, we knew he was different, but we wanted different. We wanted to address any retention/graduation issues in HHS and we wanted help for those very anxious students who needed to get into graduate school to achieve their health career goals,” she says.

“Bill understood that student success and real advising is more than just helping a student figure out what courses to take in a major, or even more than details about a major or a profession. He understood that life planning and life goals are important to our students for the rest of their lives.”