2017 Tillman Scholar

Ester Raha Nyaggah

University of Southern California

“Trauma survivors need safe spaces to heal their wounds. It is my hope to help create those spaces.”

Motivated by a deep desire to be part of something greater than herself, Ester Raha joined the U.S. Navy at 17 and served for four years as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her enlistment included a deployment on board the USS Nimitz to the Persian Gulf, where she met people from various cultural backgrounds. Her interactions with them piqued her interest in studying other cultures and understanding the social, economic and political forces that shape people’s experiences. This led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Ethnic Studies at Columbia University.

While at Columbia, Ester continued her service to her local community by training to become a mediator and mediated court-referred cases. Within her campus community, she served as part of the campus committee that adjudicates cases of alleged student sexual misconduct. After graduating, Ester volunteered as a crisis counselor and victim advocate for survivors of sexual violence. She found this service challenging yet fulfilling, and she realized how great a need there was for sexual assault survivors to find and receive support within their community. This, coupled with her military service and a keen awareness of the prevalence of military sexual trauma, led her to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Southern California. Ester chose the military social work concentration in hopes of incorporating her military and civilian experiences to serve and support trauma survivors and empower them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.