When Carley Johansson enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, she intended to become a doctor. Once she faced the challenges of organic chemistry, however, her career path took a different direction.
Johansson switched her major to women and gender studies with minors in biological studies and constitutional democracy. That coursework, she said, involved the most challenging, exciting and interesting material she’d studied.
“The first moment when I realized the political science, history and gender studies were coming together as advocacy would have been my sophomore or junior year, when I took a constitutional rights class,” she said, noting she found a particular interest in reading case law.
The professor who taught that class, Dr. Carli Conklin, was part of the university’s Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy. Conklin encouraged Johansson to apply to the program’s undergraduate fellowship program. She was accepted and spent her senior year writing for the program journal.
“[Conklin] really became an instrumental part of my life as a personal and professional mentor,” said Johansson, who graduated in 2018 and enrolled in the University of Missouri School of Law.
“I went to law school and have stayed in law school because my passion is for standing with and fighting with victims and survivors of gender-based violence,” she said. “It has always been my goal to do that, and that’s what kept me in school.”
Johansson plans to graduate in May 2021. She has interned with the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office and the St. Louis County Circuit Court, and she plans to intern with the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
She’s also served as president of the university Women’s Law Association, which provided one of her greatest sources of fulfillment, she said.
“Being able to create a space for women and other minorities in the law school where people can come together and feel supported, and being able to highlight issues important to those groups and make sure they’re being heard has been really awesome,” Johansson said.
Another source of pride for the St. Louis native was being named the first recipient of the Elizabeth Westbrooks Memorial Scholarship in 2019. Westbrooks’ family established the scholarship for rising 2L women students at Mizzou Law to honor the late law school graduate and attorney, who died in 2017.
“This scholarship was put in place for women pursuing justice for women,” Johansson said. “Being the first is so exciting and very humbling to me because it means that her family and others involved thought I stood for a lot of things she did, and that I would move forward that mission as well. It was just incredible to me.”
Outside of school, Johansson said she loves watching crime documentaries, cheering on the St. Louis Blues and hanging out with her 3-foot-long pet python Rasmus.
“I got him during my first year of law school. For my birthday, I asked for money and bought a snake,” she said. “. . . I have to take care of myself to take care of him.”
Looking ahead to her planned legal career, Johansson said she hopes to work in her hometown as a prosecutor focusing on sex crimes and domestic violence. After that? She hopes to amass enough experience to work on federal cases involving domestic human trafficking with an organization such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I think the things that keep me the most motivated are just continuing to keep doing the work when it gets hard — it’s about the small victories along the way,” she said.