Life-Changing Award: BGSU Student Chosen for First Obama Public Service Scholarship

A Bowling Green State University Honors College student who is being recognized for her advocacy and public service in Bowling Green and nationally has been selected as one of 100 college students across America – and one of only three in Ohio – to receive the first Obama-Chesky Voyager Fellowship for Public Service.

Kaylee Ries, a junior who is a first-generation college student, plans to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology and is deeply passionate about helping others. Ries has been recognized for her work advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, as well as serving as a crisis counselor and peer counselor at BGSU.

“When I read the email letting me know I was selected, I cried,” Ries said. “It has been incredibly emotional. Going to college has always been my dream and I have worked so hard to get there. Receiving this scholarship is life changing. I will be able to travel, network and continue my education without the added stress of figuring out how to pay for it all. It’s still amazing.

The Voyager Fellowship, administered by the Obama Foundation with additional support from Airbnb, includes up to $25,000 in financial assistance per year and a $10,000 stipend for summer work-travel experience.

Additionally, students are invited to a fall summit where they will meet former President Barack Obama and Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky. Students also have access to a national network of leaders and receive a travel allowance for 10 years after graduation.

Ries is majoring in psychology with minors in neuroscience and human development and family studies. She participated in the BGSU College Credit Plus program as a student at Edison High School in Milan. She is a Thompson Working Families Scholar and a McNair Scholar.

Ries says she grew up in poverty, surrounded by alcoholism and drug addiction, and often witnessed domestic violence. She aspires to offer love and support to everyone she meets, knowing the difference it can make in people’s lives.

Ries works as a lawyer at Cocoon, a sexual and domestic violence shelter in Bowling Green. She volunteers for the Crisis Text Line nationally as a Crisis Counselor and Campus Advocate and recently began an internship as a Peer Ambassador at the BGSU Counseling Center.

“Empathy is so important,” Ries said. “Sometimes at Cocoon or on the Crisis Text Line, I talk to people struggling with addiction. This population is so stigmatized. I love people through their addiction. Ultimately, I know they are human beings and I know they are worthy of compassion.

As a psychologist, Ries hopes to eliminate the stigma she felt growing up and advocate for vulnerable populations. She wants people to know that help is available.

“I spent most of my upbringing maintaining this double life,” Ries said. “There was what was happening at home, and school was my land of opportunity. People have no control over what they are born into. I had no control over my youth, but I could control my education. I want to continue advocating for people to reach and realize opportunity, regardless of their journey.

Carolyn Tompsett, chair of BGSU’s psychology department, said Ries is a role model among her peers.

“Kaylee is a truly exceptional psychology student,” said Tompsett. “She represents what psychologists seek: high academic achievement, the pursuit of new knowledge and, above all, a commitment to advancing the well-being of others. I am so inspired by her work and thrilled that she is one of the first class of recipients of the Obama-Chesky Voyager Fellowship.

The program is funded by Chesky’s $100 million personal contribution to the Obama Foundation with the belief that exposure to new places and experiences generates understanding, empathy and cooperation, which enables the next generation to create meaningful change, according to the Obama Foundation’s website. The scholarship is renewable for a student’s final year.

As part of the scholarship program, Ries will participate in an immersive summer experience to gain hands-on experience within her chosen service path. Students can pursue a traditional internship or design their own experience.

Ries will have the opportunity to define his public service journey at the program’s fall meeting. There, she and other fellows will meet with Obama and Chesky to discuss the role of empathy and understanding in leadership and public service.

Throughout the program, Ries will also be invited to a series of ongoing conferences, giving her access to a network of leaders who will expose her to new service areas and innovations in her field. Upon graduation, Ries will join the global Obama Foundation community with access to its resources and programming.

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