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Student Named to USA TODAY Academic All-Star Team

By Jon Hussey

Carrie Johnson, USA Today All Academic Team.

Carrie Johnson, senior, double major in the School of Public Affairs. (photo by Jeff Watts)

Since coming to American University four years ago, School of Public Affairs senior Carrie Johnson has been named a 2008 Morris K. Udall Scholar, a 2009 South Dakota Senate Fellow, a Truman Scholarship Finalist, and an American University Honors Program Outstanding Leader, among other honors. She saved perhaps her greatest recognition for her final days as an undergraduate, as one of 20 college students in the United States named to USA TODAY's 20th annual All-USA College Academic First Team.

The USA TODAY award, which carries a $2,500 cash prize, is given to undergraduate students who display outstanding intellectual achievement and leadership and extend those intellectual talents beyond the classroom to benefit society. Johnson's near perfect GPA, dedication to campus activities and causes, and commitment to environmental and Native American issues have also earned her the university's highest honor, the 2009 President's Award, to be presented at commencement.

“I know that this is a recognition of what I've done academically and my work here on campus and in the city,” said Johnson. “But I think it’s more a reflection of the investment that AU has had in me. I’ve had tremendous support from the faculty and the staff here that has allowed me to reach my potential.”

Based on the amount of academic work, research, and extracurricular activities Johnson has undertaken, it’s hard to believe she arrived at American University unsure about her path. The Yankton, South Dakota native couldn’t settle on a major when she arrived at American University four years ago, so she decided to double major in law and society and designed her own second interdisciplinary major to incorporate political science, law, education, and environmental studies. She added to that a Women, Policy & Political Leadership certificate from SPA’s Women & Politics Institute.

“At first, I intended on being a history major,” said Johnson. “I thought it was a neat opportunity that AU allowed their students to direct their educational experience. I felt that this was a good way to support my interest in public policy and also my interest in working with indigenous communities and the environment.”

Growing up along a lake in South Dakota, Johnson grew to respect nature at an early age. Two Native American aunts, one of whom lived with Johnson’s family when she was young, opened her eyes to the cultures of indigenous people, and from that knowledge sprung an interest in development and helping people who are in need. At AU, she was able to pursue all of those interests in the classroom and in the community.

And as if her hectic academic schedule weren't enough, she served as the president of AU’s Student Advocates for Native Communities, organized two alternative spring break trips to American Indian reservations, arranged fund raisers to increase awareness of rainforest destruction and other environmental issues, and served in various positions in student government for three of her four years. She also maintained close relationships with the AU Methodist community and several faculty and staff members across the university.

“I think my relationship with Meg Weekes, Karen O’Connor, and the Women & Politics Institute had a large role in my accomplishments,” said Johnson.

Weekes, the associate dean for the School of Public Affairs, nominated Johnson for the USA TODAY award after seeing firsthand her intellectual curiosity and determination.

“Carrie is a brilliant young woman with deep compassion and a commitment to hard work,” said Weekes. “She has never sought the easy solution or the quick victory. She has worked tirelessly and effectively, setting her alarm many mornings for 4 or 4:30 a.m. to study for her regular courses and to leave time to do research and raise awareness on campus.”

Johnson will graduate summa cum laude and hopes to get a job working on renewable energy policy with an environmental nonprofit. Before she gets started with her career, she may take a brief moment to appreciate what she’s already accomplished.

“This is a great finale to my four years at AU.”

To see Carrie Johnson in AU's Virtual Tour, click "Changing the World" below: