Donor Julie Rafferty ’78 paid her own way through college, now she gives back to help a student’s future unfold

Julie Rafferty thinks everyone should go to Newhouse.

“If you’re thinking you want to be a doctor, a scientist, an engineer—combining that with what you learn at Newhouse would make you much more powerful in the world,” Rafferty says. “Paired with liberal arts, it’s pretty ideal even if you have no intention of going into journalism.”

And Rafferty would know. The Newhouse School is where she learned to write and write effectively. Those skills have proven valuable in her impressive career as a professional communicator. The 1978 Newhouse graduate was director of communications for the Joslin Diabetes Center in Massachusetts for nearly 20 years. And since 2003, she has worked at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. As associate vice dean for communications she manages media relations, marketing and fundraising communications, among other responsibilities.

Michael and Julie Rafferty holding oranges
Michael and Julie Rafferty live outside Boston.

“The communications field has changed tremendously since I was (at Newhouse) but at the end of the day, if you don’t know how to write or speak or communicate verbally in whatever medium you’re using, you’re not going to be successful in any endeavor,” she says. “The skills Newhouse teaches are universally applicable.”

Rafferty says she values the time she spent at Syracuse University, where she was a dual major in magazine, in Newhouse, and policy studies in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She also worked hard to be there. To pay the $3,000 annual tuition, Rafferty worked summers, took out loans and graduated a semester early to save money. Rafferty’s engineer father was already retired when she attended SU, which meant her parents were living on about $12,000 a year from his pension, social security and her mother’s salary as a secretary.

“It certainly wasn’t poverty level back in the day but it wasn’t enough income on paper that they could pay my tuition,” she says.

Paying her own way through college has influenced Rafferty as a donor. It’s why she makes an annual gift to the Newhouse School to support a student award. Rafferty’s gift created the “Oh the Places You’ll Go” award, named after the iconic Dr. Seuss book, for students working with Sean Branagan and the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship.

Her gift also helps fund some travel expenses for Branagan’s students, allowing them to attend professional conferences such as South by Southwest.

“With her gift, we have been able to help students travel to meet with funders and attend entrepreneurship meet-ups and conferences,” Branagan says. “We have also awarded two students as Newhouse Student Entrepreneurs of the Year: Max Doblin last year and Erin Miller this year. Both are terrific students and received a $500 prize for their ventures.”

Rafferty jokes that she not in the position to give “piles of money,” but her role at Harvard makes her appreciate the challenges and importance of fundraising. And her dedication to Newhouse goes beyond just writing an annual check—she also gives her time.

“I met her at South by Southwest and she spent some time with our students there and even attended my Student Startup Madness event,” Branagan says. “Then, after she made the gift, she met with us again and she came to SSM again, too, and listened attentively to student startups from colleges all over the country. 

“Julie is great.”