From Classmates to Colleagues

When they decided to pursue their graduate degrees at Alverno, Chelsey Smith ’19 (above, right) and Jennifer Johnson ’19 were both Wisconsin transplants looking for a new path.

The paths that led them here, however, were quite different. Smith spent six years in the U.S. Air Force as a medic, later becoming an instructor to other medics and earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Johnson was a creative director at advertising agencies (where she contributed to the development of the “Live, Learn, & Then Get Luvs” diaper campaign) and had become a certified professional coach.

Despite their different fields and areas of focus, both are educators who loved sharing their knowledge and working with adults. That’s what led them to pursue a master’s degree at Alverno, focusing on organizational leadership and development.

In the first year of their studies, they found themselves bouncing ideas off of each other for individual projects, or doing peer evaluations. It wasn’t an immediate bond, however. “Jennifer and I didn’t always understand where each other was coming from. Our thought process is very different,” Smith recalls. “But then we tried to embrace that.” They found that bringing different strengths to the table helped them through a couple of consulting projects – they balanced each other out.

“We bring our best foot forward. We can achieve more together than we can by ourselves,” Smith adds.

As their last semester approached, Smith found herself considering her employment options. Johnson suggested she go into business for herself, but Smith felt she didn’t have the networking skills needed to go win clients and market her business. “What should you do if you have a weakness? Well, you should rely on your friend and embrace their strength.” Jennifer laughed it off, but the next day, called Chelsey and said “We should do this. Smith & Johnson.”

The women took advantage of the Wisconsin law that allows student entrepreneurs to form an LLC for free, and thus Smith & Johnson LLC was born. Their consulting firm uses organization development assessments and tools to guide organizations through change.

“Essentially, I would say that we are in business to help other businesses,” Smith says.

“We facilitate change,” adds Johnson. “Changing doesn’t have to mean blowing things up. Change can be very small. I think a big part of what we do is to make change less scary by creating a road map.”


The fall/winter 2019 issue of Alverno Magazine highlights what makes Alverno graduate programs unique. To learn more about these programs, which are open to women and men, click here

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