Aiming higher: Rachel Prickett Passey works with USHE to improve education

Jun 05, 2024 | Students

by Lindsay Wilcox

Rachel Prickett Passey, a young white woman with shoulder-length dark-brown hair wearing glasses and a navy blue dressIf you’d asked rising 3L Rachel Prickett Passey as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have answered with “teacher.” After working as a special education paraprofessional when she was just beginning college, however, Passey decided to change course.

“It didn’t take me long to become frustrated with laws surrounding special education students and administering individualized education plans (IEPs),” Passey recalls. “I figured if anyone was going to change the way things were done, it may as well be me. To do that, I would need a law degree and a broader understanding of how these laws came to be in the first place.”

With her focus on education, Passey was interested in serving on the student board of the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE). She initially interviewed with USHE in April 2023 but was not selected as a board member. During her finals in fall 2023, Passey received an email from the governor’s office: The student board member who’d been selected had left their appointment for a career opportunity, and Passey was up for the position.

“I definitely thought it was a scam email, but it turned out to be genuine. I have served as an interim appointee since January. Just goes to show that all interviewing opportunities are useful even if you don’t get the job immediately,” Passey says.

She says that service on the board has been a “delight” and that she enjoys the chance to talk with different students around the state about their experience with higher education.

“Discussing the issues common to all students and then taking that information back to the policymakers looking to improve the lives of students everywhere it an absolute honor,” Passey expresses.

Passey notes that her USHE position has tapped into what she hopes to do with her law degree.

“The intersectionality between everyday citizens, policy, and politics is always dynamic and interesting,” she says. “Furthermore, I am endlessly fascinated with the systems we as a society put in place to help others and then reimagining ways those same systems could be improved to serve the community better.”

When Passey was applying to law schools, she says the S.J. Quinney College of Law stood out because it’s well-ranked but also affordable, especially with scholarships and various forms of financial aid.

“The fact that S.J. Quinney is located in a state capital with all of the benefits of firms, courthouses, and the legislature within minutes of campus was certainly a major part of the decision,” Passey says. “The people here are first-rate. We have some incredibly talented and thoughtful people willing to take time out of their busy schedules to teach our classes. Everyone, truly everyone, is here to be supportive and helpful in your career goals.”

Though law school hasn’t been easy—Passey’s son was just 12 weeks old when she started at Utah Law, and he’s now two years old—Passey says surviving is a big accomplishment.

“Being able to balance legal studies, early motherhood, work, law review, and service on the Board of Higher Education is evidence of just the kind of supportive environment SJQ fosters. Is it all perfectly balanced all the time and up to my perfectionist standards? Absolutely not. But it all gets done and I even find joy along the way!” she says.

Though graduation is a year away, Passey is excited about becoming an expert in educational legislative reform.

“I would like to spend a career studying different educational laws and administrative systems and then writing books and legislative models to suggest thoughtful reforms,” she says. “It is kind of a niche area of expertise, but it sounds really interesting and meaningful.”