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Empowering the World

The Louise Trowel Award helped bring Phoenix Rice-Johnson to UW–Madison. Now she’s a Truman Scholar.

Phoenix 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.”

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