‘Power of AND’ exemplified through student’s internship at Planned Parenthood

A UW-Eau Claire junior combined two usually non-intersecting fields into one path, leading her to a summer position at the Planned Parenthood headquarters

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After an impactful study abroad trip to Argentina last summer, Abigail Johnson looked for more opportunities to connect her passions in finance and women’s studies.

Photo by Hillary Smith

After an impactful study abroad trip to Argentina last summer, Abigail Johnson looked for more opportunities to connect her passions in finance and women’s studies.

“The Power of AND” equipped one UW-Eau Claire student to combine her passions of accounting and women’s studies into a summer internship with Planned Parenthood at the organization’s headquarters in New York City.

Abigail Johnson is a junior with a major in accounting and two minors, one in economics and one in women’s studies. She added the women’s studies minor after a university study abroad trip to Argentina helped her realize her interests in both fields.

Rose-Marie Avin was the lead faculty member for the trip to Argentina. It was Avin’s passion and drive in the combination of economics through a feminist lens that Johnson said inspired her to begin pursuing women’s studies in her own education.

Avin is an economics professor at the university; she is also the women’s studies program director and conducts research centered around women in the developing world. Avin said she is interested in the interdisciplinary approach in considering economics through a women’s studies lens.

“We always assume that people are affected by their economic choices. You make your own choices, and your conditions reflect the choices you make,” Avin said. “I think a feminist approach argues that there are some strong societal factors that affect people’s choices.”

Avin said she is excited for Johnson to have an internship experience with Planned Parenthood. Passion is what enables people to be successful, Avin said, and Johnson has that passion, which is aided by the opportunities made available to her by the university.

“That trip to Argentina opened her eyes to a whole new world,” Avin said. “She realized the different possibilities, she realized what was possible with her degree. And because she realized what was possible, she took the next step.”

Johnson’s mother, Paula Johnson, also commended Eau Claire for opening doors for her daughter.

“The professors and the culture in general allows the students to question ‘Why?’ … and that it’s okay to express that and challenge that with different viewpoints,” Paula Johnson said.

She described her daughter as “a humanitarian type of person” who is always diligent with her studies, with a good listening ear, to boot.

As a single mom, she said both she and her daughter had to make sacrifices, but it helped Paula develop important skills and values, especially caring for others and understanding the value of hard work.

“I couldn’t always be at home being the ‘mom’ like in a ‘conventional’ family,” she said, “but I never once felt that she held it against me. I believe she understood the big picture.”

Paula said even though the prospect of her daughter living in New York is scary, she is proud of her and excited for the experience she will have.

Abigail said her mom is a huge role model in her life, especially in empowering her as a woman. Not only did her mom take care of the house with cooking and cleaning, she also handled mowing the lawn and other maintenance types of chores.

“She shows a woman can do anything a man can do,” Abigail said. “We have more tools in our garage than most of my friends’ dads have in their garages, I’m pretty sure. That’s been really empowering — seeing her do everything, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy. I have a lot of respect for her, and she’s done a lot for me.”

Abigail said her family is 90 percent female. Her grandma and grandpa had four girls, and there are now two granddaughters, making for a dominantly female family and serving as even more of an inspiration for her to pursue advocacy in women’s rights.

After her trip to Argentina, Abigail said she felt like more paths and options were open for her. Before the trip, she thought she was destined for a life in corporate America, which felt limiting to her. With the influence of Avin, Abigail said she saw she could shift her path and use her accounting skills to promote other causes she cares about.

She said she decided to look into Planned Parenthood because she admires its mission, especially in making health care and resources available to all women. Abigail added she believes it is a politically pivotal time, and Planned Parenthood is still doing amazing work through its devotion to helping women.

She said her internship is in the finance division of Planned Parenthood but will consist of mostly accounting duties. She currently works at an accounting firm in Eau Claire, which she said most likely contributed to her getting the internship due to the real-life experience she has under her belt.

The opportunity to pursue her passions in social issues through accounting is exciting, Abigail said, and would not have been possible if not for the people and experiences she’s had at the university.

In addition to Avin, Abigail said Mark Alfuth, a professor in accounting and finance at Eau Claire, has also made an impact on her path.

“You’re not confined to one set of opportunities. You can go anywhere … you can do so many different things,” she said of the lesson Alfuth emphasized to his students.

Abigail’s internship will start in early June and last through early August. She said in the future, she hopes to work with nonprofit and women’s organizations.