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How Positive Collaboration Drives Learning and Service: Adam Johnson, Brigham Young University Student, Selected as 2023 Truman Scholar

Adam Johnson’s passion to help make the world a better place started even before he came to Brigham Young University. In fact, his passion to make a positive impact was just one of the many reasons Johnson was selected as a 2023 Truman Scholar. Johnson, an Honors Program student, was informed of this achievement by President Worthen and President-Elect Reese on April 10, 2023. This accomplishment of becoming a 2023 Truman Scholar marks the third consecutive year a Truman Scholar was selected from BYU.

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Adam Johnson receiving the news he is a 2023 Truman Scholar. (Left to right: President Kevin J Worthen, Truman Scholar Adam Johnson, President-Elect Shane Reese, Undergraduate Education Dean Richard Gill.
Photo by Nate Edwards

Johnson emphasized how the Truman Scholarship application process itself was full of learning opportunities. “Even if I didn’t get the scholarship, which was the highest likelihood, it was a good self-exploratory experience for me to see what kind of person I wanted to become and what I wanted to do with my life—I learned so much just from the process,” Johnson said.

Growing up, Johnson was exposed to many different places and cultures since he moved often for his father’s work. This exposure gave Johnson a unique opportunity to see the globe and opened his eyes to the different circumstances in which people live, fueling his desire to make a positive impact on the world. These experiences helped influence his decision to study political science and strategy with an emphasis in Southeast Asia and foreign policy from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

Johnson expressed this desire to make a positive difference in the world as he said, “From a young age I wanted to be able to help people that were less fortunate, but I didn’t know how to do that [yet].”

Because of his strong drive to help others who need an advocate, Johnson resonated with the Truman Scholarship upon seeing an advertising booth for it at the BYU Honors Program opening social. He explained the Truman Foundation’s values really aligned with his personal values.

“I see the commitment to public service in different words— ‘a commitment to God,’” Johnson said. “For me, that was really important that they were trying to support people who wanted to make the world a better place, so it was a really good fit even just from a values perspective.”

Johnson believes collaboration is one of the most impactful ways pressing global issues will be solved, a sentiment that has driven his many accomplishments so far.

In 2017, Johnson was called to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Singapore and Malaysia. In these countries, he was able to teach the people spiritual principles and discover what issues were perpetuating the seemingly endless poverty cycle. Upon speaking with those who experience this poverty, Johnson discovered their need for accessible higher education and sought to mitigate this issue.

After his mission, Johnson wanted to help remedy the low education rates, making education more accessible to Malaysians and Indonesians. To do this, he collaborated with his Indonesian co-founder and registered the Small Hill Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making education more accessible to those people. To progress this cause, Johnson and his co-founder formed a partnership with BYU Pathways International and two other universities. These institutions agreed to subsidize tuition costs if the drop-out rate is less than 20 percent and to offer scholarships to those who need it. Their model has been extremely successful with over 95 percent of the affected students earning degrees or educational certificates.

“Adam is also especially gifted at bringing together people from all sides of an issue to form a consensus and make good things happen,” said Amy McLaughlin, one of Johnson’s advisors from the office of National Scholarships and Prestigious Fellowships. “He is a true bridge-builder and is deeply committed to using his intellect, skills, and talents to improve the world in which we live. It’s inspiring to see the difference Adam has already made in our community and abroad, and it will be exciting to see the impact for good he will have in the future.”

In 2019, Johnson was still discovering his passion for how to better help those in need and chose to attend BYU because of its opportunities for formative and experiential learning. He especially resonated with BYU’s mission to “Go Forth and Serve.”

“Service is mentioned in a lot of classes and for me, commitment to public service also means a commitment to God,” Johnson elaborated “At BYU we learn about more than being leaders, we learn how to serve others. Professors played a big part in reinforcing that in my mind and the scholarship just reiterated that [lifestyle] to me.”

Johnson, still searching for ways to collaborate with others in a meaningful way, saw and filled a need for his community in 2020. He mobilized the community against the threat of commercializing Bridal Veil Falls. His efforts supported Utah Legislature in passing a bill that classified the beautiful waterfall as a state monument. This project led Johnson to work with others in different lines of work to form Conserve Utah Valley (CUV), a nonprofit organization. This nonprofit helps local government offices work with both businesses and the public to protect the land and water in Utah Valley.

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Truman Scholar Adam Johnson in front of the Maeser Building which houses the Honors Program.
Photo by Nate Edwards

As Johnson continues his role as executive director for Conserve Utah Valley, one of his top priorities is to create more partnerships in the valley. The goal to conserve the valley is a shared mission among many people, no matter their background or profession. Johnson believes this shared goal tightly knits people together for a good cause. His desire to bring people together in collaboration towards positive change was a big reason why he chose to apply to the Truman Scholarship.

While any important scholarship application process is extensive and challenging, Johnson spoke to how the process was made easier through BYU resources. He largely credits his guidance in the process to Audrey Hanks, the National Scholarships and Prestigious Fellowships coordinator. Johnson spoke about his weekly meetings with Hanks that involved countless revisions and tweaks to his application.

His humble gratitude exuded from across the table when he said, “Audrey is incredible. She does a really good job of bringing personal faith into academics. I learned so much throughout the process and the scholarships office really helped me develop a cohesive narrative and polish my essays. ... Audrey spent weeks helping me with the interview questions and was a super big support throughout the process.”

To Johnson, applying for the Truman Scholarship meant more to him than just writing essays on what he wanted to do. Instead, he spoke how the application process increased his hope of how the world will be in the future.

He said, “It reinforced my hope for the world; I think we often take on this negative narrative for the world––thinking the world is doomed because of political conflicts or because of ineffective organizations, but going through the process, I got to see first-hand how many people were really committed to making the world a better place, all within their own disciplines. It reinforced my hope that this world has so much potential, even though there are things we struggle with we are doing better than we think and we can do better when we put all minds together.”

Created in honor of Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, the Truman Scholarship Foundation aims to “award scholarships to persons who demonstrate outstanding protentional for and who plan to pursue a career in public service.” Recipients of this prestigious scholarship qualify for a $30,000 grant toward graduate school. The Truman Foundation also provides recipients with leadership training, career counseling, special internship and fellowship opportunities, and an amazing network of like-minded people. Johnson’s hard work, strong character, passionate drive to be a leader in the public sector, and many more unique qualities led to him being selected as one of 62 Truman Scholars for 2023 from a pool of 705 candidates from 275 colleges and universities across the nation.

Johnson emphasized how he feels truly humbled and grateful for the opportunity to receive this scholarship so that he is more enabled to do good in the world.

“You don’t need to be recognized by a foundation in order to do good,” Johnson said. “Every single major at BYU is structured in a way that you can make a difference in the world in every field of study. You don’t have to become an attorney or start a business or work as a professor, or any of those more ‘traditional’ paths ... but just having your own special vision of how you can make the world a better place is going to create a big movement to inspire positive change.”

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Johnson on the Maeser Building steps.
Photo by Nate Edwards

To set up an appointment to meet an advisor in the National Fellowships and Prestigious Scholarships office, visit our scheduling site. For further questions, email the advisors at