Pamela E. Scott-Johnson, Ph.D., Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, joined Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., on an episode of “This Week in Black History, Society, and Culture,” a weekly podcast produced by the Black and African Diaspora Forum United (BADFU), on Monday, Sept. 6.
The senior VP discussed her research interests and transition to becoming Monmouth University’s first Black woman provost.
Scott-Johnson’s background is in psychology, she explained. Trained as a behavioral neuroscientist, she worked as a research scientist for Kraft General Foods as an expert in taste and smell before transitioning to academia.
“I started off as a research scientist in the food industry, looking at taste, smell, and various food substitutes,” Scott-Johnson said. “Ways that we could make things taste fuller, reduce salt and sugar.”
She noticed that reducing salt and sugar had particular and significant health impacts among African Americans, as a reduction in sodium potentially improved cardiovascular health.
“When you reduce sugars, you could improve health in terms of weight management and potentially diabetes,” Scott-Johnson said.
Before joining Cal State LA, Scott-Johnson spent 15 years at Morgan State University, Baltimore, serving as the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, professor of psychology, chair of the department of psychology, and acted as the founding director of the psychometrics graduate program.
Scott-Johnson taught in terms of physiological, psychological, and cognitive psychological learning. “Those are all frameworks of which I engage in that research.”
She then partnered with peers in the biology department, centered around neurobiology. “These were times when many institutions were developing neuroscience programs,” Scott-Johnson explained. “I have worked with others, in that regard, to outline what healthy neuroscience programs would be from multiple perspectives. Nowadays, institutions with those programs have a cellular component, a behavioral component, and also a social component to it.”
Scott-Johnson has also expressed a research interest in weight and body image. “A lot of times people talk about body image in terms of the aesthetic, but I also look at it in terms of health and culture,” Scott-Johnson said.
Those afflicted with COVID-19 often experience a loss of taste and smell, according to the Mayo Health Clinic.
“I, admittedly, would love to hear about the long term impact on taste and smell and why this particular virus attacks that system,” Scott-Johnson said. “As well as how people will manage if they are without taste or without smell. So much of that helps us navigate our environment.”
While attending college, Scott-Johnson grew more interested in psychology and how the human body operates, she explained. At the time, higher education placed more emphasis on mental health and the biological basis of mental illness.
“When I first entered corporate life, there was this movement of having more women in industry, and certainly, there was a movement to support more African Americans coming in,”
Scott-Johnson said. “In Research and Development environments, there were very few African Americans and I’m thankful for those individuals who really pushed their companies to think about diversifying in ways that we don’t think about now, when we think about equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“These were managers who really risked their careers to say, ‘We need more African Americans, you gotta have more diversity, and more Black and Brown people in the environment.’”