Fellows Alumni Profile: Rahel Demissie (’18) on asking ‘the why’ to create better solutions
Edited by Anna Liang
Rahel is a recent UC Berkeley graduate with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Public Health. As a Fung Fellowship alumni, she shares more about what she’s doing now and the lessons she learned from her time in the Fellowship.
Tell us about yourself- where are you from, what did you study (and why) at Berkeley?
I was born in Ethiopia, but I have spent the last two decades of my life in northern California. First in San Jose, then Merced, Berkeley and finally San Jose again. I was an Interdisciplinary Studies major, where I got to choose an emphasis in Global Health and take different courses to explore the intersections of the field. To be honest, I didn’t know Berkeley would be the right fit for me when choosing colleges, but when I came to admit weekend and toured the campus, it felt like the only school I could see myself at for the next few years. As a student I had a lot of interest in different fields, so it only felt natural to be an interdisciplinary major. I always knew that I had an overall desire to study in health at an international level, and with the major, I was also able to get the exposure of its different facets.
What is one cause that you’re passionate about? Why?
One of the causes that I am passionate about is mental health and the importance of accessibility to resources. Working with various populations, I have seen how lack of resources is one of the biggest barriers to individuals getting the help they need. I have also seen across populations, how mental illness does not discriminate; but resources do.
What attracted you to the Fung Fellows Program?
I really liked that the Fung Fellows Program felt like my major brought to life. It aims to bring together students from different disciplines to utilize each other as resources. It was great to see how everyone was validated for their unique strengths, rather than ranked based on the “value” their major brought to the table.
It was great to see how everyone was validated for their unique strengths, rather than ranked based on “value” their major brought to the table.
What was your biggest learning in the Fellows program?
One thing that I remember was the importance of intentionality when completing our design challenges. Intentionality has become a way for me to check in with myself and make sure that I’m only investing in things that will help me grow, and not burn myself out. Having intentionality in the back of my mind has definitely helped me narrow down decisions that I would have struggled with in the past.
Additionally, my time in the Fung Fellowship also taught me how to narrow down questions. One of the first activities I completed in the fellowship was developing “how might we questions” related to our design projects. Starting with these questions was a key component of brainstorming for our challenges. I have found that starting with a “how might we” question can be applied to most things in my life as well. Starting with reducing my morning commute to much larger problems like creating care plans with my patients.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten, or alternatively, what advice would you give to Fung Fellows?
As I reflect on my time in the Fellowship, I remember being very passionate about creating the next best thing to change the world. I also remember holding myself back for fear that certain ideas would not work for various reasons. However, seeing the supportive community and abundance of ideas generated throughout the design process, I learned that failure is inevitable, and even more so a major part of success. I would encourage those around me to fail often, fail early, and fail forward to keep moving. Those ideas I never shared may not have changed that world, but they could have helped us move one step closer to changing someone’s life.
What do you hope to accomplish in your career?
As a child I loved to talk so much that my family would joke that I had swallowed a radio. Most of this talking was me asking my parents ‘but why?’. Although I have outgrown my talkative nature, I have remained inquisitive and passionate about ‘the why’. As a young professional I hope my career continues to allow me to ask “the why” of health outcomes. I envision having a career that encourages the pursuit of knowledge, with the ultimate goal of building healthy and happy communities.
What are your plans for this next chapter in your life?
My next chapter in life has had quite a few revisions since graduation, but it has become clearer each day. I see myself attending graduate school to pursue a Masters in Public Health in the near future, and continuing to serve as many communities as I can.”