President Joe Biden appointed Rudy Soto ‘11 the USDA State Director for Rural Development for Idaho in January. Soto was born and raised in Nampa, Idaho and is a member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation and a veteran of the United States Army National Guard. He received his bachelor’s degree from Portland State where he attended as a First Generation student, and his time at PSU inspired his passion for advocacy and politics. Before his USDA appointment, Soto served as a legislative staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, worked to protect public lands with the Western Leaders Network, and learned about the issues facing rural Idahoans when he ran for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District and took an RV tour through every county in western and northern Idaho.
We asked Soto to reflect on his time at PSU, his new role, and his goals for serving rural Idaho communities like the one he came from.
What was your journey to PSU?
Like most students who attend PSU, I was a nontraditional student. I was the first in my family to attend college and TRIO Upward Bound was the program that helped me believe that higher education was possible for me.
What experiences at PSU have had the biggest impact on you and your career?
It was at PSU where I learned that I had what it takes to be a leader. First through my involvement with the Native American Student & Community Center and later through joining student government and serving as the elected student body president of the Associated Students of Portland State University. I learned how to listen and collaborate with people from all walks of life and that was what prepared me to go on and be successful as a young professional.
What was it like to be appointed USDA State Director of Rural Development for Idaho by President Biden?
As the son of a farm worker and member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of Idaho, it was an incredible honor to be selected as a presidential appointee to serve the rural communities of my home state. It was the result of support from many people and the culmination of many years of sacrifice and hard work.
What are you most excited about doing in your new role?
I’m most excited to be a part of the many things the Biden-Harris Administration and USDA – Idaho Rural Development staff are doing to make life better for rural communities in my state. For instance, advancing economic prosperity, equity, and climate resilience. I’ll be strengthening and expanding partnerships to make sure rural development program investments are reaching the impoverished communities that too often go underserved and working to build wealth in rural areas where it’s needed most.
What changes would you like to see implemented to help rural residents?
I would like to assist rural communities struggling to recover economically from the impacts of COVID-19, particularly disadvantaged communities. I’m eager to ensure that all rural residents have equitable access to rural development programs and benefits. It’s an urgent priority for us to reduce climate pollution and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change through economic support to rural communities.
What advice do you have for current or prospective students who are interested in a career in government?
I would encourage them to pursue their passion and find a way to get a foot in the door by volunteering, interning, and earning gainful employment in government or a nonprofit, business, or organization that works closely with the government. There are so many ways to make a difference and it’s important to make the most of one’s potential.
Is there anything else you think the PSU community should know?
I encourage the PSU community to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Please make a 5-year plan so you have general goals that can serve as your north star. I wish you all nothing but the best on your journey as we each navigate the human experience.