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Georgetown Alumna, Rhodes Finalist Advocates for More Focus on Youth Mental Health

November 22, 2017 – Georgetown alumna Christina Johnson (NHS’17) who wants to research ways to implement wide-reaching mental health interventions for young people, recently competed as a finalist for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship. 

Policy Solutions

Johnson, 22, of Redding, Connecticut, works as a lab manager and research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania’s Boundaries of Anxiety and Depression Lab.

Though the alumna did not win the Rhodes, she plans to apply to clinical psychology Ph.D. programs with focus on ways to impact policy changes around mental health.

“I would like to study public policy so I can analyze and propose solutions that make legal, ethical and economic sense,” she explains. “I’m particularly interested in policy that stems from the belief that health is a human right.”

She’d like to explore the developed world’s past and present policy solutions and mental health interventions as it pertains to child and family maltreatment.

Future Interventions

While at Georgetown, the human science major in the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) served as team captain for the varsity rowing team, and was named 2017 Corvias Patriot League Women’s Rowing Scholar-Athlete of the Year as well as 2016 Openweight Team MVP.

She says she took her job at Penn to deepen her understanding of mental illness.

“The more I understand, the better equipped I will be to create more impactful interventions and solutions in the future,” she says.

The Grassroot Project

The alumna first became interested in the mental health of young people while at Georgetown.

She spent two years promoting health education within the Washington, D.C., community through The Grassroot Project – co-founded by fellow Georgetown alumnus and 2010 Rhodes scholar Tyler Spencer (G’09).

The nonprofit began with Spencer and 39 other student-athletes and focused on HIV-prevention, but Johnson helped The Grassroot Project broaden its emphasis on health education.

“For many of the D.C. students with whom I worked during my time with The Grassroot Project, HIV education was not enough to prevent the development of adverse health outcomes,” Johnson says. “I was frustrated by the injustice of the fact that these kids were markedly more likely to experience mental or physical health issues as adults solely because of the neighborhoods and economic situations into which they were born.”

Johnson also worked with Joan Burggraf Riley, NHS assistant dean for educational innovation, to complete a community health needs assessment focused on mental health and youth in the District of Columbia.

‘United to Serve’

John Glavin, director of the Office of Fellowships, Awards and Research for Undergraduates, says Johnson has exhibited leadership as a student-athlete and strives to mirror Georgetown’s Jesuit tradition of women and men for others.

“Every aspect of Christina Johnson’s college career shows that she brings her Jesuit education, scholarship and experience as a student-athlete to everything she does,” Glavin wrote in his recommendation of her for the Rhodes Scholarship. “And now they are united to serve those so badly underserved by our mental health care system.”

Johnson was one of six members of Georgetown’s all-female group of Rhodes finalists for this year’s prestigious scholarship – including four in the United States, one in Bermuda and another in China.

Georgetown has produced 25 Rhodes scholars, including President Bill Clinton (SFS’68).