Heather Johansen—2014 Fellow

Heather Johansen

Year: Class of 2016
Major: Media and Cultural Studies, English (minor)
Organization: NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

My project had a dual nature to it. For the first component I worked with the public policy director doing a state-by-state analysis of competency to stand trial legal code and statute. Minnesota’s own competency to stand trial rule (Rule 20) doesn’t establish many timelines around evaluation turnaround and restoration to competency proceedings. But, through my analysis I discovered most states do have timelines around the process (which is great!) because then people aren’t sitting in jail without social intervention for prolonged periods of time. After compiling that information I created a document of recommendations for NAMI which compiled all of the best policies they should advocate for at the legislative level this upcoming session. I also got to attend a mental health summit over the summer and create a document of all the recommendations that came out of that meeting, which was then sent to more than 20 organizations throughout the state. The second part of my summer project was working with affiliate engagement coordinator. I developed and created an affiliate website, edited/updated the NAMI MN booklist and helped publicize some events along the way! The work was engaging, I loved the people I worked with–they provided me with so much autonomy and support at the same time, and everyday I learned something new about the mental health issue area.

Receiving the fellowship allowed me to do fulfilling summer work in an area I am passionate about. The whole experience from classroom to workplace is refreshing and inspiring. In class, during the spring semester, we discussed and debated the best ways to make change happen, but in the workplace I discovered the sense of urgency and reaction that exists. So, for example, one day NAMI hosted a press conference, and I went into work expecting a normal day at my desk, but by 11am I was sitting next to the Channel 5 News Team taking notes for NAMI’s press release. It was thrilling and I loved the feeling of purpose and meaning I got from my work.

And while I met some of the most fantastic people at NAMI, I couldn’t have gotten through my summer without the support of my fellow Chuck Greeners. I loved the cohort experience and was always inspired to hear what my peers were doing at work every day. Chuck Green is a challenging experience, because you ask a lot from yourself and from others, but it’s completely worth it. I left the summer knowing my skills as an activist, advocate, social change agent, communicator and leader had grown exponentially. The gratitude I have for this program runs deep and is hard to put into words!