Unconventional students at Rice 2018: Advocacy as a guiding light

For Justin Onwenu, serving as Rice Student Association president was one of the most hectic experiences of his life.

“It’s been challenging and that’s one of the things that I like about it,” he said. “I’ve gotten to really advocate for Rice students on campus but also outside of Rice, which is something I’m interested in as well.”

Onwenu knew the role of president would be hard work, but there was no way he could prepare for the challenges brought by Hurricane Harvey.

“Harvey was an event that no one anticipated,” he said. “I remember inviting myself to the crisis management meetings. I wanted to serve as a spokesperson for students’ concerns and questions and make sure everyone had accurate information.”

Onwenu’s desire to get out and help those in need helped prompt the launch of the Rice Harvey Action Team (RHAT), which mobilized about 1,700 students, faculty and alumni to volunteer in the Houston community.

“Whether it’s advocating for scholarship reform on (Capitol Hill), doing research around lung cancer metastasis, talking to students about sexual assault reform and things like mental health resources on campus, more than anything this experience has really taught me that I want to be an advocate for people who often don’t have a voice,” he said.

After graduation, Onwenu plans to combine his passions for medicine and advocacy to help people across the world get access to health care.

About Brandon Martin

Greetings, I am a video producer at Rice University in the Office of Public Affairs. I became a Rice Owl in June 2011. Before that, I was at KPRC-TV in Houston as a special projects photojournalist for seven years, where I covered everything from hurricanes to sports. Southeast Texas has been my home my entire life. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two of the cutest girls I have ever seen. Go Owls!