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Breaking Chains and Building Dreams (Sandra Johnson)

  • Episode #146

From humble beginnings, Sandra Johnson sees education as the pathway out of adversity. With a belief in breaking cycles and aiding others, she, alongside her partner, started a university, embodying her convictions about lifelong learning and community empowerment. 

In this Part 2 episode (with Part 1 featuring her husband and business partner, Marco), we hear Sandra tell of her childhood in a challenging neighborhood where education was not prioritized, leading her to face numerous obstacles from a young age, including living in poverty and experiencing violence. Determined to break the cycle, Sandra pursued education relentlessly, despite being unaware of available financial aid and feeling out of place in her initial university environment.

From that, Sandra shares her path to making it, the lessons learned along the way, and how she and Marco continue to drive forward, turning every challenge into an opportunity for growth and innovation. Join us as Sandra provides inspiration and insights on how adversity can fuel a purpose-driven life.

Welcome to Making It! This weekly show explores the lives and stories of entrepreneurs as they share their unique perspectives on their success and the path to making it. 

“It’s such a rush. . . founding a university, to see these kids, these young adults, finding their purpose and seeing that rush on them. And they’re unstoppable, [as] they become successful.”

— Sandra Johnson

Immigrating to Lancaster, California, from Chile in 1970, Sandra attributes her success to her parents, who continually challenged her to overcome obstacles. Arriving in the United States in the first grade and speaking very little English, Sandra soon became the school’s translator, bridging the language gap between administrators and Spanish-speaking students — all while growing up in a tough neighborhood and, at times, receiving government assistance. Sandra’s childhood experience set the foundation of her passion: changing lives through education. 

Previously, Sandra was the CFO and Co-Founder of the University of Antelope Valley. Since its inception in 1997, Sandra has overseen her company’s transformation from a small CPR company start-up into a nationally accredited higher education institution. The University of Antelope Valley has graduated over 1,000 students a year, with programs ranging from the master’s-level to career-specific certificates. The University employed over 100 residents and had two campuses, an athletics program, and over 30 academic programs and certifications. Sandra and her husband decided to retire from the University and sold the University of Antelope Valley in July 2022. They felt this would be the best move for the community to bring investors with higher volumes of funds to quickly assist in making the university a local mark and a global one.

Sandra has become a focal business leader in the Antelope Valley, earning the 2009 City of Lancaster’s Citizen of the Year Award, recognized jointly with Marco Johnson — her husband and co-founder of the university. In 2012, she obtained strong community support in her successful run for a seat on the Lancaster City Council. She recently addressed a Congressional Woman’s Conference on entrepreneurial fundamentals. She attributes her success to putting vision before profit. Sandra and Marco continually give back to the Antelope Valley community, supporting local charity and family shelter organizations, hosting community outreach events at the University, and assisting local entrepreneurs with guidance and support.

Sandra obtained a Master’s in Education with a Specialization in Curriculum Development and Outcomes Assessment and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, both from Aspen University.

Resources or websites mentioned in this episode:
Sandra’s website:

Co-Producers: Cassandra Topperwien and Geoff Govertsen
Supervising Producer: Cynthia Lamb
Assembled by: Michi Lantz
Audio Editor: Marvin del Rosario
Executive Producer: Danny Iny
Music Soundscape: Chad Michael Snavely
Making our hosts sound great: Home Brew Audio

Music credits:
Track Title: The Sunniest Kids
Artist Name: Rhythm Scott
Writer Name: Scott Roush

Track Title: Love and Circumstance
Artist Name: Shimmer
Writer Name: Matthew Wigton

Track Title: Quema Quema
Artist Name: Neon Beach
Writer Name: Aaron Sprinkle

Special effects credits:
24990513_birds-chirping_by_promission used with permission of the author and under license by AudioJungle/Envato Market.

To catch the great episodes coming up on Making It, please follow us on Mirasee FM’s YouTube channelor your favorite podcast player. And if you enjoyed the show, please leave us a comment or a starred review. It’s the best way to help us get these ideas to more people.


Making It

If you’re an online entrepreneur, Making It was made for you. In each episode, real-world entrepreneurs tell their stories in their own words. They define what “making it” means in the busy space of online business. And they reveal what they’ve learned in their journey toward making it… lessons you can use in your own business.