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Youngest board member already knows her purpose

A policy counsel in Washington. A biracial woman. A Buckeye. Melissa Wasser ’17 MA, ’17 JD is many things, but chief among them: dedicated to paying forward.

A biracial woman with a friendly smile poses on a chair.

Ohio State Alumni Board member Melissa Wasser works as policy counsel for the ACLU of Washington, D.C., and will lead the city’s alumni club starting in early July. (Photo by Jodi Miller)

As her birthday approached this year, Melissa Wasser ’17 MA, ’17 JD knew what she wanted to do: open doors for dedicated students, as they had been opened for her.

Also in celebration of the fifth anniversary of completing a dual degree program through the Moritz College of Law and John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Wasser started a Buckeye Funder to raise scholarship support for students attending the Moritz College and for the Alumni Club of Washington, D.C.’s fund. She serves as the club’s president.

At 30, Wasser is the youngest member of the alumni association board of directors. Early in her tenure, she brings the same passion for helping others that has defined her educational aspirations and career thus far.

  • What inspires you to pursue public service work?

    This gives me an opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself. I’ve always thought there was value and dignity in public service and have tried to do good work with good people. As entertainer Amy Poehler has said, “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” To me, that’s exactly the experience I had at Ohio State.

    I also want to leave a legacy of service. As an only child and a biracial woman, my very existence is kind of a miracle. Realizing how unique that is, I want to be the person who I didn’t have in law school. It drives me to give back through mentorship of current law students, pushing for broader representation in law and public policy, and encouraging more Black women to become leaders in their communities.

  • What were your summer experiences as an Ohio State student?

    My first summer during law school I worked at a law firm. I learned a lot and discovered that sometimes it’s just as important to find out in law school what you don’t want to do. My second summer, I was offered two opportunities: a fellowship with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in Washington, D.C., and a position with the ACLU of Ohio. Though I was very interested in both roles, I opted to go to HRC because I wanted to work in Washington on LGBTQ+ issues. As I found out, a dream delayed isn’t a dream denied.

    Being able to accept my current role as policy counsel for the ACLU of D.C. felt like a full-circle moment, not only because of the role I had to previously turn down, but I get to work for the ACLU affiliate responsible for litigating Loving v. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws and gave my parents the ability to marry.

  • Why did you enroll in the dual degree program through Moritz and the Glenn College?

    As my dad pointed out when I was making my decision, I had always wanted to be a Buckeye, and this made me a double Buckeye! Having both degrees gives me the ability to translate for people, explaining why a policy or issue matters to them, while still understanding the legal foundation.

    I also selected the dual degree program because I came to Ohio State debt-free; I was extremely fortunate to have a full-ride undergraduate scholarship at Youngstown State University. I’m very lucky that I received additional scholarship support for law school, and I’m now in the process of paying forward through my service on the alumni association board.

  • So paying forward is what motivates you to stay so engaged with Ohio State?

    It’s about the community for me. Buckeye Nation is a big network and will help you get where you want to go. When I initially moved to Washington, I found the D.C. alumni club because I was searching for a place to watch Buckeye football. Now, in addition to enjoying the Buckeye camaraderie, I get the opportunity to send more students from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to Ohio State by raising money for scholarships each week.

    Keeping that Buckeye spirit going through the pandemic also has motivated me. Our alumni club embraced keeping in touch virtually, hosting events on racial equity, the return of the cicadas and even a virtual beer tasting with Great Lakes Brewing Co. It definitely paid off — in 2021, we were club of the year! That continues to fuel me as I give back to the university that gave me so much.

  • What are some of the earliest memories you’ve made in our nation’s capital?

    I’m a huge Supreme Court nerd, and in undergrad, I camped out for days to get into oral arguments and the opinion release for United States v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act case. As I was writing my thesis on marriage equality and equal protection under the law, I remembered us protesting outside of the court and hearing oral arguments live in person. These formative experiences made me realize how much I wanted to live and work here.

    I also had a D.C. bucket list that included seeing the highest court in the land — the basketball court above the Supreme Court — and riding the Capitol subway. I’m still waiting to visit the White House bowling alley. Growing up in Northeast Ohio, bowling was a major part of my life. While I await my invitation to bowl at the White House, I enjoy bowling in my weekly league as a great stress reliever from the busy day-to-day!

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