When Chuck Aoki came to the Humphrey School two years ago, his goal was to get his master’s degree while continuing to play wheelchair rugby for Team USA. Now, as he completes his Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree, he has his eyes set on the world.
Aoki has decided to pursue his PhD in international relations, and hopes to eventually work in US foreign policy to aid in democracy development, or help nations transition from conflict to peace.
At the same time, he remains committed to helping his rugby team win gold medals at the 2018 World Championships in Sydney in August, and at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Aoki, 27, is a Minneapolis native who’s been using a wheelchair since middle school because of a medical condition that has left him with no sensation in his lower arms and legs.
Both his academic and athletic pursuits allow him to be a role model for the large numbers of people who have disabilities, but whose voices are rarely heard.
“I feel a certain obligation to be a public face, to demonstrate that a person with a disability can be an expert on a whole host of topics,” Aoki says. “I want to give them a role model that looks like them.”
Aoki could be considered a role model for just about anyone. He was accepted into the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Relations; he’s one of just four PhD students admitted to the program this fall, out of some 100 applicants.
Aoki credits his experience at the Humphrey School with sparking his decision to pursue his doctoral degree.
“The relationships I have with my professors gave me the chance to learn so much more than I could by merely attending classes, and they have inspired me to continue to my studies,” says Aoki.
Aoki spent last summer in Washington, DC, as an intern at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which works to support and strengthen democratic institutions in countries around the world. He was focused on developing resources for the organization to be more inclusive of marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities, LGBTI populations, and ethnic and religious minorities, in countries with fragile societies.
He and three other students continued that work with NDI for their capstone project.
“I’ve built strong relationships with my peers that have given me friends from all over the world, and I look forward to staying in touch with them after commencement,” says Aoki. “The supportive environment here has been such an incredible experience, and I will take the lessons and values of the Humphrey School with me wherever life takes me.”