Her parents emigrated from Ethiopia during the 1983-85 famine when the country was in the midst of a decade-long civil war. The family settled in Maryland, and then in Centerville, Ohio, just south of Dayton, where she and her older brother, Gabriel, were born and raised.
Habteselassie began her academic career at UC with plans to go into medicine. Instead, she is pursuing a career in public health and policy. In that respect, her UC career has been pretty typical. As many as half of enrolling students at U.S. colleges are undecided about a major, according to studies.
“I came to UC wanting to be a doctor. I majored in neuroscience. But I learned that my career doesn’t have to revolve around medicine,” she said. “About 50 percent of students change their minds about their major at least once. I fell into that category.”
While at UC, Habteselassie has traveled to Thailand, where she provided community health outreach to newly arrived immigrants through the student group GlobeMed and its nonprofit partner Social Action for Women. She likes the idea of working abroad for a global nonprofit such as the Gates Foundation. After graduating from UC, she plans to continue her education in public policy and health or international law in Washington, D.C., where many global nonprofits and policy organizations are based.
“I would want to be on the ground working as a liaison,” she said.
Her father, Mesfin Habteselassie, said that role would suit her.
“I am 100 percent sure if she leads her life toward those opportunities, she will be good at it,” he said. “She has a good heart. She’s not selfish. When she believes in something, she stands up for it.”
His daughter has always been driven to succeed, he said.
“She’s very determined. When she wants to do something, she goes for it,” he said. “We are very proud of her.”