Meet the 2022 Rappaport Urban Scholars

Headshots of Urban Scholars Rep. Tram Nguyen and Carol Leon

Two emerging public sector leaders from the Greater Boston area will join the Harvard Kennedy School this fall as the 2022 Rappaport Urban Scholars. Massachusetts State Representative Tram Nguyen and City of Boston Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement Program Manager Carol Leon will each receive full scholarships to attend the Harvard Kennedy School’s mid-career master in public administration program.

The Rappaport Urban Scholars Program began in 1981 with funding from Rappaport Institute Founder Jerome “Jerry” Rappaport to advance the education of Greater Boston’s elected and appointed public sector leaders who demonstrate an interest in urban and metropolitan issues, a capacity for leadership, and a continuing commitment to contribute to the well-being of Greater Boston. To date, more than 30 elected and appointed officials have participated in the program. 

Read below to learn more about Rep. Nguyen and Carol Leon and what they hope to achieve from the Urban Scholars Program.   
Tell us about your career in public service so far?

Leon: I feel privileged to have started my professional career at the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement (MOIA) seven years ago. In my roles as an intern, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Outreach Engagement Coordinator, and Programs Manager, I have worked towards making a welcoming city for all immigrants—work I wish to continue doing after I graduate from the HKS MC/MPA program.

Rep. Nguyen: My family immigrated to the U.S. as political refugees with less than $100 to our name. We lived in public housing until my parents found steady jobs. Watching my parents work very hard at minimum wage jobs to give my sisters and me a better life, I was inspired to excel in school to make the most of the opportunities that I had. I became the first member of my family to graduate from college and then law school. After law school, I pursued public interest legal work at Greater Boston Legal Services, where I represented vulnerable populations, including working families, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, people with disabilities, and other clients who needed help navigating the system. 

I pride myself on being the first Vietnamese American woman to hold elected office in Massachusetts. As the first, I don't want to be the last, so I work to open doors and support other diverse candidates so that our government can be reflective of the people. Diversity in representation adds vibrancy to the voices and experiences being heard and felt at the policymaking table and makes it possible to build a better society. Throughout my career in public service, I have fought to increase representation at all levels and to amplify voices from marginalized communities. 

What interested you about the Urban Scholar program?

Leon: My great experience with the HKS Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston throughout my professional career and my desire to become a better public servant motivated me to become part of the incredible network of Urban Scholars, many of whom have served as role models throughout my career. 

Rep. Nguyen: I am committed to promoting the well-being of individuals, families, communities, our environment, and our economy, recognizing that special efforts and attention are needed for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of populations. I want to be a change agent for all of us, no matter our status or position in our community, and I believe that the Urban Scholar program would allow me to be a more effective public servant. I want to learn more about public administration and how best to use policy and the law to positively impact more lives; the Urban Scholar program gives me the opportunity and financial assistance to get a world-class education in the MC/MPA Program at Harvard Kennedy School to do just that. 

What are you most excited about the Urban Scholar program?

Leon: I am excited to join the incredible network of Rappaport alumni to continue making Boston and Massachusetts a welcoming place for immigrants.

Rep. Nguyen: Through the Urban Scholar program, I hope to gain the knowledge, ability, and tools to take on issues facing the greater Boston area and throughout the Commonwealth, including health care access, employment, housing, language access barriers, and we must do all that we can to find solutions through an equity lens. I am excited to work with other scholars in this program to effect the systemic change we need to address the inequities that currently exist in our society.

Read Rep. Nguyen and Carol Leon's full bios here