Truman Scholar: NWU Junior Wins One of Nation's Top Academic Honors

Chelsea Johnson is currently studying in Washington, D.C. through the University's Capitol Hill Internship Program.
Johnson (right) and fellow NWU students met with the governor's policy analyst last fall to discuss the proposed pipeline.

A Nebraska Wesleyan University junior has been awarded one of the nation’s highest academic honors.

Chelsea Johnson, a political science major from Johnson, Neb., has been awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Sixty recipients were selected from a pool of 587 national candidates. She is the only Truman Scholar from Nebraska this year.

Scholars are selected based on leadership potential, intellectual ability, and the likelihood of making a difference. The scholarship provides $30,000 toward graduate studies. Scholars receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at premier graduate institutions, leadership training and special internship opportunities within the federal government.

Johnson’s interest is in public policy and advocacy relating to energy and the environment.

“I came to college planning on majoring in art and business, with the hope of opening my own art gallery someday,” Johnson wrote in her Truman Scholarship application. “But upon arriving in the capital city of Nebraska, my apathy toward political events turned into activism, which I will forever more channel into demanding positive change.”

Her newfound interest was sparked by a liberal art seminar titled, “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” which was taken the very first semester of her college career.

Led by the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and English professor Kathy Wolfe, Johnson immersed herself in the class that both challenged her and forced her to think outside her comfort zone. She learned how human actions ultimately determine our own fate and those of future generations.

“It challenged me by demonstrating the mindset that allows for humans to live unsustainably — a mindset I possessed,” said Johnson. “It also forced me to reconcile my farm girl roots with the fact that agriculture is not always a positive thing, and is actually detrimental when not done sustainably.”

Since taking the class, Johnson has been an advocate for sustainable practices. She interned at Repower America and Bold Nebraska. She helped introduce legislation to Nebraska Wesleyan’s Student Affairs Senate that called for opposition to TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska. The legislation passed unanimously and marked the first time the University’s student senate took a public stance on a national issue. Johnson took the passed resolution one step further and led a handful of her peers to the state capital where they met with the governor’s policy analyst on the issue.

In addition to her advocacy work, Johnson is active in Global Service Learning, Young Democrats, Student Affairs Senate and Willard Sorority. She is also a member of several academic honoraries.

Last year she studied abroad in South Africa where she also served a small, understaffed and under-resourced credit union. With some previous banking experience, Johnson thought she was equipped to lend some expertise, but soon learned that her American banking skill set was not directly applicable to the credit union that served one of the most impoverished populations in South Africa.

Rather than getting frustrated, Johnson made it an opportunity. She became a confidant to the credit union’s director and found ways to be of value and assistance despite her limitations. She shared her knowledge of the American banking system, and along with the director discussed ways to better serve clients including workshops to teach them how to budget and save.

“In all of my previous volunteer experiences, the emphasis had always been on what I could do for whom I was serving,” she said. “Serving isn’t about what I can do for someone; it is about what I can do with someone. It is a constant learning experience.”

Johnson is considering graduate school at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs where she wants to earn a master’s of public affairs degree with concentration in sustainability and sustainable development.

She is currently studying in Washington, D.C. through the University’s Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP) and interning at the National Conference of State Legislatures, International Programs Division.

Johnson is the fourth NWU student to win a Truman Scholarship in the past seven years.