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Arne & Mary Le Johnson

Northwest Missouri State University alumnus Arne Johnson and his wife, Mary Le, want students to earn an education at a campus that is inviting to all.

With that in mind, the Johnsons’established the the Arne and Mary Le Johnson Scholarship, which focus on students’ academic and financial needs.

While Mary Le is an architect in Houston, Arne, a 1977 graduate of Northwest, is the senior vice president of general counsel and secretary for Noble Energy, an independent oil and gas company there. He heads the corporate affairs legal department, the company’s corporate compliance department, and global security and government relations.

“To us, philanthropy in general is a way to make a real difference in the world,” Arne said. “In this context, philanthropy is really about creating opportunities for others that in a lot of cases we have been fortunate to have ourselves.”

Arne attributes his career success to the high values and principles he developed at Northwest.

“I studied political science and public administration at Northwest, and I think that was what sparked my interest to go to law school,” he said. “I believe more than anything else, just learning the importance of solid values are things that have been helpful.” 

Growing up in Shenandoah, Iowa, Arne never thought he would attend college.

“Looking back, I’m not sure there was a time I thought I could or would go to college, let alone graduate,” he said. “I think, in a lot of ways, I am probably the prototypical Northwest student with somewhat of a modest, rural background and the first in the family to attend and finish college. It’s a role the school has continued to play today.”

Northwest proved to be a comfortable way to bridge the gap between his small town roots and the career path he wanted to pursue.

“It’s funny because it was really only later on in my life that I came to appreciate how much of a difference Northwest made in my life,” Arne said. “What I love most about Northwest is it’s a harvesting ground for diamonds in the rough. You realize, if you work hard, you can make something of it.”

After learning more about the TRIO program at Northwest and scholarship opportunities, Arne and Mary Le wanted to assist people interested in attending the University but who may not have the financial resources to do so. Launched at Northwest in 1986, TRIO is a federally recognized educational outreach program designed for students with disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We like the idea that the TRIO program kind of created a bridge of programs to help students make the transition to the college degree environment,” Arne said. “From our perspective, we have always been committed to the idea of scholarships and the opportunities that scholarships can create.”

The Johnsons believe students who face and overcome the greatest challenges are often the University’s greatest success stories.

“We found that supporting scholarships helps people get the education they need,” Arne said. “Quite simply, Northwest is an excellent value proposition in providing a good education. The academic excellence the school provides is at a very reasonable price. We also feel like our support at Northwest makes a difference.”

Arne fosters his passion for Northwest as president of the Northwest Foundation Board of Directors. As he returns to Northwest for Board meetings, he is always impressed with the examples of successful graduates and the high-caliber faculty.

“When I think back about the time I was there and look more recently at some of my work as a Board member, I really feel blessed to have the opportunity to meet with a number of the faculty,” Arne said. “What has also impressed me about the faculty at Northwest is the degree of commitment that each and every one of them seem to have enriching their students’ lives. I don’t believe this is something you can fake. The faculty at Northwest are truly genuine in their interest of student success.”