Empowering the world

Phoenix Rice-JohnsonPhoenix Rice-Johnson remembers growing up in Hawaii without some of the everyday amenities many of us take for granted.

“My dad raised me on a mechanic’s income,” she says. “I was accustomed to poverty and unemployment in my household, because it existed throughout my community. I began thinking about a career in public service to help overcome these kinds of inequalities.”

Rice-Johnson, a senior, has come a long way from relative poverty in Hawaii, to the campus of UW-Madison, where she has excelled as a political science and international studies major and an activist and leader.

In spring 2015 Rice-Johnson was one of two UW-Madison students selected to receive the prestigious 2015 Truman Scholarship, awarded to 58 students nationwide. She also received the Louise Troxell Award, given to an outstanding L&S female student whose qualifications include intellectual ability and curiosity, good citizenship, appreciation of the world outside herself and interest in participating in its affairs.

That fits Rice-Johnson, whose goal is to work as an advocacy lawyer to “foster a more democratic and civically-engaged country.”

Right now she’s focused on doing that here in the United States, but Rice-Johnson does not rule out an international career.

“I spent a semester abroad in India living with a widow named Madhu,” she says. “I saw the limitations of her life — she was not allowed to leave the house without her son’s permission — and I began researching ways to increase women’s access to governmental representation in developing countries.”