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Business grad’s decade-long ties to Clinton Global Initiative started with Robb Garden

Pacific graduate Vinny Johl in University of the Pacific's Robb Garden.
Vinny Johl credits her family’s farming background with giving her the experience she needed to help start Pacific’s Robb Garden, which in turn created her opportunity with the Clinton Global Initiative University.

As a graduate student in Pacific’s Eberhardt School of Business, Vinny Johl ’11 received her first opportunity to make a lasting difference thanks to her family’s farming background, a Pacific connection and President Bill Clinton’s foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative. A dozen years later, Johl’s impact continues to grow as she influences young people worldwide on sustainability and youth empowerment issues.

In April, she moderated the Student Townhall Q&A with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton. The townhall was a highlight of the annual meeting for CGI University (CGI U), the foundation’s youth program.

“I couldn’t be where I am without Pacific, without my MBA, and especially without CGI U,” she said. “CGI U couldn’t have come into place if I wasn’t at Pacific.” 

Johl, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree in business administration at Pacific, is senior commitments adviser for CGI U, a position the foundation created specifically for her.

Farming background

Johl’s passion for sustainability is rooted in her family’s farm near Yuba City in the northern Sacramento Valley. Four generations have been farming peaches, prunes and almonds. She credits her grandfather for teaching her to garden and instilling a passion for growing food.

That passion found an outlet in 2010, when Johl learned that Pacific students would have the opportunity to attend CGI U thanks to funding from a generous donation by then-Pacific regent Ron Cordes, who was also a member of the Clinton Global Initiative. Delegates need a project to attend CGI U, and Johl was inspired to share her knowledge of agriculture with other Pacific students. So, she and fellow student Fiona Kelly made the planning, design and construction of a vegetable garden at Pacific their commitment. That garden is now known as the Ted and Chris Robb Garden, named after the sons of former regent and garden benefactor Walter Robb.

“When I look back, the whole idea for the garden was a bit wild,” she said. “Here I am at the University of the Pacific [and] to even think that our administration would allow a student to plant a garden on these beautiful grounds is huge.”

Former President Bill Clinton and Pacific graduate Vinny Johl at the Clinton Global Initiative University.

A decade of mentoring

Johl attended CGI U as a Pacific delegate in 2010 and was selected again in 2011 based on another project to promote and teach sustainable living to Pacific undergraduate students.

Once she had completed graduate school, Johl was no longer eligible to attend CGI U as a student, but she still wanted to be involved. Over the last decade, Vinny has served in numerous volunteer roles for the foundation. Every year since 2013 she has supported up to 50 student delegates from around the world as a mentor for agriculture projects, college readiness, and youth development and empowerment initiatives.

Johl is now a health care ombudsman for Kaiser Permanente. She oversees Care Experience, Physician Health and Wellness, and Equity, Inclusion and Diversity for the health care company.

After a decade of service, Johl was ready to step back, but CGI U was not ready to let her go.  This year the foundation created the senior commitments adviser position for her.

“To Pacific students I would say, get involved. The majority of opportunities that came to me were from outside the classroom,” Johl said. “It was the experiences outside of the classroom that really enriched my education and gave me different (leadership) opportunities.”

Watch the Q&A session Johl moderated during the CGI U 2022 Annual Meeting.

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