At 18, Raie was appointed by former Governor Mark Dayton to serve as a cabinet member on the state’s first-ever Young Women's Cabinet. In her role, Raie has worked to elevate the voices of hundreds of young women across the state impacting law and policy at the local, state, and national level. She has also had the opportunity to speak to young women across the US, and internationally, on the power of cultivating purpose into social impact. In 2019, she was awarded the national Truman Scholarship for her commitment to public service and was selected as a PPIA Scholar at the Goldman School of Public Policy.
Raie graduated from Hamline University with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in public health and political science. She researched the political determinants of health, highlighting the impact of policy, politics, and ideology on health outcomes, especially for marginalized populations.
Raie was the Midwest program manager for IGNITE National, one of the country's largest young women's political organizations dedicated to building a movement of young women who are ready and eager to be the next generation of political leaders.
We caught up with Raie about what's next and what the Fellowship has meant to her:
2021 Fellow Raie Gessesse on her graduation day at Harvard University.
2021 Fellow Raie Gessesse smiling with her Class Day Award.
Can you tell us more about your graduate studies? What questions were you pursuing?
I completed my Master's in Public Policy degree at the Harvard Kennedy School, with a concentration in Democracy, Politics, and Institutions. The driving force behind my decision to pursue this degree stems from my New American journey and my aspiration to transform the "American Dream" that brought my parents, and millions of others to the United States, into an attainable and tangible reality for all. Growing up in the United States as the child of Ethiopian immigrants who arrived through the Diversity Visa program, I directly witnessed and experienced the challenges of forging a path in the United States. Simultaneously, I saw the abundance of opportunities that existed but were often difficult to access or navigate for new Americans.
Because of my story, I have dedicated my career to using the law and public policy to break down barriers, expand access, and create greater opportunities for immigrant communities, new Americans, and people of color to thrive and actively participate in our democratic system.
Over the past two years, what personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
One of my most recent professional achievements that I am proud of is being awarded the Barbara Jordan Award for Women's Leadership on Class Day during commencement week at the Harvard Kennedy School. Barbara Jordan, a distinguished elected official renowned for her unwavering dedication to public service, held various significant roles, including Chair of the US Commission to reform immigration law. Receiving this award is an immense honor and humbling experience. It signifies more than just the recognition itself; it serves as a poignant reminder of the inspiring women, such as Barbara Jordan, who blazed the trail for individuals like me. Their contributions and commitment to advocacy deeply move me, and I feel privileged to carry on their legacy.
How do you describe The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program to others?
I would describe the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship as at the forefront of transforming the narrative surrounding the invaluable contributions of immigrants and New Americans to the US. The PD Soros Fellowship goes beyond providing financial support for graduate studies; it represents a transformative investment in shaping every aspect of American society, including politics, government, science, and the arts.
Despite our diverse interests and fields, we are united in our shared experience as new Americans and our common goal of leaving a lasting impact on this country for future generations. Ultimately, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship cultivates leaders who are not only making significant advancements in their respective fields but also actively working to shape the future of the United States.
Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
I applied to the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program to complete my Master's in Public Policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School. I applied to the PD Soros Fellowship for numerous reasons including the robust and successful alumni network, the financial support, and the ability to be in community with New Americans from all walks of life. However, what truly captivated me about this opportunity was the unique aspect of the program that centered around my New American story. In all my previous experiences, I had never encountered a program or initiative that genuinely focused on and embraced my identity as a New American. While I had always taken pride in my background, it had never been a prominent part of the prevailing narrative or discourse.
Discovering a fellowship that not only expressed genuine interest in my cultural heritage, language, food, and customs, but also committed to empowering individuals like me to pursue our aspirations was an entirely novel and exhilarating experience. The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community is truly rare and holds a very special place in my life for being one where I can show up as my full self.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
My advice to anyone applying to the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship program is simple: APPLY! I say this for two reasons: 1) This program is specifically designed for YOU—immigrants and New Americans who possess a deep desire to make a meaningful impact in your chosen field and in the world. You are already equipped with the necessary qualifications! Do not underestimate your own potential even before taking the step of applying. 2) Reflect upon the moments in your New American journey when giving up would have prevented you from reaching the point you are at today. In the company of Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows, I have come to realize that many of us share a common trait, perhaps born out of necessity, which is an unwavering persistence to achieve success. Embrace this opportunity and have faith in yourself—you have already proven to yourself that you are capable of overcoming challenges.
Has your sense of what it means to be a New American changed or shifted through the Fellowship experience and community?
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship experience has provided me with a profound sense of affirmation, empowerment, and renewed vigor as a New American. When I reflect on the origin story behind the Fellowship from Paul and Daisy Soros, I am reminded that we are all part of a much broader tapestry of individuals aiming to make a lasting impact on this nation. The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship has reinforced my belief in the collective strength we possess and how we can together reshape the prevailing narratives of what being a New American means.∎