PRESQUE ISLE — Maine State Police Trooper Michael Johnston was honored Wednesday at the University of Maine at Presque Isle with the 2011 Distinguished Recent Alumni Award.
The award is given to a UMPI graduate who has been out of college between two and 12 years and has distinguished himself in his career or service to community.
“This is not just a career or a job for me, it is a way of life,” Johnston said in accepting his award during an afternoon luncheon. “Being a state police trooper is definitely who I am as a person. I work for a great agency with a fantastic legacy and some great colleagues. I love it.”
Johnston, now 33, graduated as salutatorian of his class at UMPI in 2001 and left the school with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
He immediately attended the Maine State Police Academy and graduated as valedictorian of his class in 2002. Since that time, he has earned numerous professional certifications, completed extensive forensic and general training programs, and represented the state police on several committees related to law enforcement.
After graduating from Brewer High School several years ago, Johnston initially entered UMPI unsure of what kind of degree he was seeking. His interactions with criminal justice majors and instructors quickly changed that.
“A lot of people at UMPI that I encountered were criminal justice majors, and I talked to them a lot and took classes with them,” he recalled. “They really piqued my interest. It quickly became apparent to me that I not only wanted to be a police officer, but a state trooper. The state police embodies the spirit of excellence, competency and professionalism that I carry in my own heart, and the reputation of the agency is remarkable.”
Johnston began making a name for himself swiftly after joining Troop E in Orono. In 2005 and 2009, he was named Trooper of the Troop. He was a nominee for state Trooper of the Year in 2005 and 2008 and won the title in 2009.
Along with his regular trooper duties, Johnston’s specialties include serving as the primary motor vehicle law instructor for the State Police Academy and for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s Basic Law Enforcement Program. He also is very active in community service, speaking to retirement community members regarding phone and email scams, talking to parents about child safety issues, and conducting “cruiser tours” with young students. He has been a guest speaker for UMPI classes, and recently returned to the UMPI campus to represent the state police at its Career Day event.
Johnston credits his success to many factors, including the education he got at UMPI and the faculty who taught him.
“This happens to be a great college, and its criminal justice program is outstanding,” he said Wednesday. “The classes are small and you get lots of one-on-one attention from your instructors.”
The trooper credited one instructor, Dr. Dick Ayre, as being one of his biggest mentors.
“I attribute a lot of my success at UMPI and in the criminal justice program to Dr. Ayre,” he said. “He is the backbone of that program. I had nine classes with him and he is very wise, passionate and current on his information. I have sought out his counsel many times before and I am sure I will again.”
It was Ayre who nominated Johnston for the award.
“Michael was not only an outstanding student here, he was, in many respects, the kind of student a college professor encounters once in a generation” said Ayre.
Johnston said he was influenced by a number of current and former instructors as well, including Claire Exner, Gene Kilpatrick, William Davidshofer and Guy Gallagher.
Keith Madore, UMPI’s director of alumni relations, said Johnston has “exemplified the goals and ideals that higher education seeks to instill in all those who choose its path” since graduating from UMPI.
Johnston said he was “surprised and honored” to be recognized by UMPI.
“I am surprised and honored anytime I win an award,” he said. “It is because my colleagues are just as deserving, and sometimes more deserving, than I am.”
Johnston said his family — wife, Betsy, and daughter, Annabelle, 5 — is another “huge” reason for his success.