Olivia Johnson chosen as Senate Scholar

Junior gains valuable political experience in Madison


courtesy Olivia Johnson

Olivia Johnson (fifth from the left), junior, poses with her fellow Senate Scholars to commemorate the week.

Olivia Johnson, junior, spent the week of February 9 in Madison participating in the Senate Scholar Program offered by the Wisconsin State Senate. 

“Each Senate Scholar receives a hands-on, up-close view of the Legislature’s role in our democracy,” says the program’s website. 

Johnson decided to apply after hearing about it from guidance counselor Scott Brown. She was then recommended by the social studies department. This was only the beginning of the application process. Admission to the program is highly competitive.

“I won’t lie, it was pretty strenuous. I had to provide a resume, cover letter, and [take] and exam on Wisconsin history,” Johnson said. “[I also] wrote a five page paper on the agencies that aid the legislative process. It definitely prepared me for the rigor of the program.” 

Once she arrived in the state capitol, Johnson immediately felt at home among the other 32 participants. 

“I am literally having the best time. I’m surrounded by a bunch of other history and political nerds, and I get to work with the people who create, or try to create, legislation that makes Wisconsin a better state. The people have made it an unforgettable experience,” Johnson said. 

I get to work with the people who create, or try to create, legislation that makes Wisconsin a better state. The people have made it an unforgettable experience.

— Olivia Johnson

The purpose of the program is to give Wisconsin high school students experience in areas such as policy development, public relations and legislation. Scholars have the opportunity to work with experts from a variety of fields related to politics and government. 

“I’ve gotten the chance to work and discuss with senators, representatives, staff and lobbyists to really get an understanding of the importance of state government, which before I didn’t feel truly invested in,” Johnson said. “I spent three hours with Senator Lena Taylor’s chief of staff and helped him look at bills, and discussed state and federal issues.”

A typical day in the program involves drafting bills for mock sessions each day, meetings with legislators, and running errands around the capitol for anyone who needs it. That’s not to say that the scholars don’t have a little fun as well. 

“We have karaoke in the office we all work in, which is pretty cool too, especially when senators walk by and make fun of us,” she said. 

Overall, Johnson says that the people she met, both high school students and government mentors, have made the Senate Scholars Program an invaluable experience. 

“I have met some amazing people through this program, people that I want to stay in contact with forever,” she said.  

The Wisconsin Senate Scholars Program is open to all Wisconsin high school juniors and seniors age 16 through 18. Applications for the 2020 sessions have closed, but the 2021 application will be available next fall.