A Conversation with Ethan Raker


Ethan Raker Graduate from Columbia University, research fellow at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, and doctoral student at Harvard University. 

Ethan Raker was heavily involved in both student council and NHS during his time at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, IN. He realized his leadership potential through his participation in both programs, and after graduating high school in 2011, he has gone on to graduate from an Ivy League university with a degree in sociology and business management. He’s hosted a TEDx Talk on his research on demographics, attitudes, and trends in Houston, and he’s currently working to earn his doctorate in sociology from Harvard University. We spoke with him about his involvement in NASC and NHS, and how they shaped his journey toward success.

Advise: How did your involvement in NASC help shape your high school experience?

Raker: To be honest, it’s hard for me to come up with a way in which NASC did not shape my high school experience. When I think back to high school today, it is the first thing that comes to mind. Student council, more generally, was important for me in developing skills related to organization, interpersonal relations, professionalism, and leadership. My best friends and mentors were involved in NASC, and it was my main activity outside of the classroom. I learned the important value of hard work, collaboration with others, and leading with a vision.

Of all my extracurricular activities in high school, community dinners-the specific NASC event that I chaired-was one of the first major things to which I could lay claim. In that way, I felt tremendous responsibility for its execution and a lot of pride in my colleagues and myself. I learned the important value of hard work, collaboration with others, and leading with a vision.

Advise: How did your involvement in NASC/NHS influence your college/career path?

Raker: First, at a very practical level, traveling to NASC conferences and meeting enthusiastic leaders from across the United States exposed me to a broad spectrum of postsecondary possibilities. NASC also afforded me the unique opportunity to gain the types of leadership skills and experiences that postsecondary educational institutions value in admissions. Additionally, through all my involvement and working in groups, I became particularly interested in social relations, leading to a major in sociology. I can also trace my interest in teaching to leading a plethora of workshops at district, state, and national conventions.

Personally, my membership in NHS served two purposes. It allowed me to cultivate a community of passionate and intelligent peers. We were all unique in our skills and interests in high school, but everyone was inspiring and scholarly. We were dedicated to helping others, and I came to truly value that community. The experience also allowed me to engage in meaningful service and volunteer opportunities. We were able to collaborate with other organizations to initiate fundraisers for local food banks, run clothing drives for shelters, and provide our peers with free tutoring for math and English. It was also another means through which I was able to engage with my peers and cultivate lasting relationships and friendships.

Advise: How did NASC help make you a better leader? How did that help you in college and your career? 

Raker: NASC helped me realize my potential as a leader by providing me an outlet to engage with others, challenge myself to develop a vision, and passionately help others to realize that vision. In undertaking the task of organizing an event for thousands of leaders at 30 different locations throughout my community, I learned the value of delegation and trusting others. In working with other leaders and advisers, NASC also exposed me to various styles of leadership, and I learned the importance of working well within a team. One of the most important things I learned during my time is how to be a good listener. This is something that I have carried with me in my early research and academic career.

Advise: How did your service work with NASC ignite an interest in helping others? 

Raker: Participating in the service projects at NASC showed me just how much impact young people can have when they come together. The service activities were always one of the highlights of the events. It enabled us to get out of our comfort zones and aid a surrounding community and other people. This is a founding core of a good leader—a dedication to others—and it was a highlight to see that in action and participate at meetings and conventions.

Advise: What’s one particular memory that stands out to you from your experience in NASC? 

Raker: I remember (and I actually wrote about this in my college admissions essay) standing in the parking lot of my high school with my committee, as the buses full of students pulled away from the parking lot. We spent the last few weeks coordinating the final touches on transportation. It was such a relief and sense of pride that our event was finally taking place. We stood there together and had such a right to be proud of our hard work. The event turned out to be one of the highlights of the conference (if I do say so myself). I think it served its function to expose the delegates to some welcoming “Hoosier hospitality,” and give our community the opportunity to engage with the diverse group of student leaders.

Advise: What would you say to a student who is considering NASC to convince him or her to join?

Raker: I would emphasize that, in serving others as a student leader in NASC or on a student council, there is much to be learned about oneself. At such a vital stage in one’s life, that can be a very powerful thing. You will be able to meet inspiring people—both in your school and at conferences—that push you to be your best self. Moreover, you will make lasting friendships and develop impactful relationships with mentors at your school. Lastly, I think I would tell a student who was considering joining NASC that it is simply fun. We had such a good time at meetings and events. I have countless memories of cheers, adventures, and triumphs from my time in NASC.

Advise: Could you provide some details on your TEDx Talk?

Raker: Sure. In December of 2015, I was asked by a local youth organization in Houston to give a TEDx Talk on my research on diversity in Houston. It was hosted at Seven Lakes High School [in Katy, TX]. The students did a fantastic job of organizing the event. It was filled with some inspirational speakers and a lot of great dialogue on the importance of embracing diversity as youth in 21st-century America. I hope it sparked some dialogue about inclusion in schools and young people’s social worlds today.

Visit www.tedxyouthslhs.com for additional details on Ethan’s TEDx Talk. —