Life-changing award: BGSU student chosen for inaugural Obama scholarship for public service

By BGSU Marketing and Brand Strategy

A Bowling Green State University Honors College student who is hailed for her advocacy and public service in Bowling Green and nationwide has been selected as one of only 100 college students across America — and one of only three in Ohio — to receive the inaugural Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarship 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 advocacy work aiding sexual and domestic violence survivors as well as serving as a crisis counselor and peer advisor at BGSU.

“When I read the email notifying me I was selected, I cried,” Ries said. “It has been insanely emotional. Going to college has always been my dream, and I’ve worked so hard to get here. To receive this scholarship is life-changing. I’ll be able to travel and network and pursue my degree without the added stress of figuring out how to pay for it all. It still feels unbelievable.”

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

Additionally, students are invited to a fall summit where they’ll meet former President Barack Obama and Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky. Students also are provided access to a national network of leaders and receive a 10-year travel stipend 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 McNair Scholar.

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

Ries works as an advocate at the Cocoon, a sexual and domestic violence shelter in Bowling Green. She volunteers for the nationwide Crisis Text Line 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 the Cocoon or on the Crisis Text Line, I’m talking to people who are struggling with addiction. That population is so stigmatized. I love people through their addiction. At the end of the day, I know they’re human beings and I know they’re worthy of compassion.”

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

“I spent most of my upbringing keeping up this double life,” Ries said. “There was what was going on at home, and school was my land of opportunity. People don’t have control over what they’re born into. I had no control over my early life, but I could control my education. I want to continue to advocate for people to reach and achieve opportunities regardless of their background.”

Carolyn Tompsett, chair of the Department of Psychology at BGSU, said Ries is a role model among her peers.

“Kaylee is a truly outstanding psychology student,” Tompsett said. “She represents what psychologists strive for – 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 will be a part of the inaugural class of recipients of the Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarship.”

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

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

Ries will have an opportunity to define her public service voyage at the program’s fall convening. There, she and other scholarship recipients 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 an ongoing speaker series, providing her with access to a network of leaders who will expose her to new areas of service and innovations in her field. After graduation, Ries will join the Obama Foundation’s global community with access to its resources and programming.