Hamline News

Raie Gessesse Named Truman Scholar


“Trust and believe in yourself. All the answers you need are within yourself.”

Had Hamline junior Raie Gessesse been speaking to her younger self with the benefit of hindsight, she might have used those words. She should know -- Gessesse was recently named a 2019 Truman Scholar, marking the second consecutive year a Hamline student has been so honored.

Gessesse is Hamline’s first woman of color and first first-generation student to receive the academic honor. She was one of 62 outstanding students chosen from an application pool of 840 from across the United States.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to recognize individuals who have excelled in, and are dedicated to public service. Being named a Truman Scholar gives students a $30,000 scholarship for a public service-related degree and priority admission to top graduate schools in the country. It also gives students the tools and support they need to fulfill the next generation’s missions in public service.

“This opportunity is a responsibility. I am the first woman of color and first first-generation student from Hamline to get the Truman Scholar Award. I need to make sure that I'm not the last. I got here because someone believed in me,” said Gessesse.

Raie’s story is doubly unique due to her family’s story. Her parents won a visa lottery so they could emigrate to the United States from the family’s native Ethiopia. Raie was born three months after her family’s arrival in the United States and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Gessesse never fails to credit the army of peers and supporters that helped her along the way, including Hamline’s 2018 Truman Scholar recipient, Conner Suddick, pictured with Gessesse above.

“What continues to strike me about Raie is her genuine and honest approach to service,” Suddick said. “For Raie, it is not about self-aggrandizement, but a genuine love for ensuring health equity for all. Her passion is contagious, and she empowers those around her to take action.”

Through bi-weekly meetings, advice and connections to 1999 Hamline Truman Scholar Shawn Vogt Sween, Suddick helped pass on the Truman legacy to Gessesse.

“I had no doubt in my mind that she could win the award,” said Suddick. “She embodies all that the Truman aims to support: an academically-gifted college junior dedicated to a life of public service. I am so proud of her, and I am so lucky to call her a friend.”

Her circle of supporters doesn't stop at Suddick, she stresses the importance of the peers that have inspired her to become a leader.

“I also value the conversation with peers and even when I'm not in a class, the conversations we have about being socially aware and socially conscious. You don't find that at a lot of other universities and I think those conversations are what inspire me and cultivate the leadership I already had inside me,” she said.

Gessesse also gives credit to Hamline for facilitating a great environment to connect her with the right people and programs.

“I value Hamline as a liberal arts college,” she said. “We should value the fact that we can interact with people from different disciplines. I think Hamline does a great job of that.”

Gessesse speaks highly of her advisors Susi Keefe and David Schultz, who have helped her to find her own voice in the fields of Public Health and Political Science.

For her scholarship project, Raie drew from her knowledge in these fields to look into how police violence is linked to public health. She interviewed judges, lawyers, criminologists, and police officers to try to construct an understanding of the root causes of police violence. She found that not having access to proper food, employment, housing, and transportation lead to situations which can be become confrontational.

Her Truman scholarship policy proposal advocated for the Center for Disease Control should monitor police-related deaths and collect data on where and why these deaths are happening.

“The Center for Disease Control, as a trusted public health resource, could distribute this data and how can we intervene and create partnerships with the Department of Justice to adequately address these issues,” said Gessesse.

In addition to being a Truman Scholar, Raie has engaged in numerous leadership, internship and public service opportunities that combine her interests in health and public policy. She served as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Undergraduate Public Health Scholar (CUPS), a Capitol Pathways Legislative Intern with the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services, and as a student representative on the Minnesota Public Health Association's Health Equity Committee.

If that wasn’t enough, she was also appointed by former Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton as a cabinet member for the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota. This group, funded by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota to advance equity, centers the leadership and solutions of young women of color, American Indian young women, young women from Greater Minnesota, LGBTQ+ youth, and young women with disabilities.

“I didn’t get here alone,” she said. “I am a reflection of the people, experiences, programs and all of these things that came together to ignite me. I didn't come to be by myself -- that doesn't happen to anyone -- it's important for me to recognize that this space created that for me.”

Written by Emma Larson

Staff photo