Success Stories

Where Is She Now

A photo of Alyssa traveling abroad Alyssa graduated from Stanford University in 2012.

It’s been more than 10 years (October 18th, 2010) since we first met Alyssa during her junior year at Stanford. She graduated a short time later in 2012 with a degree in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CRSE is an interdisciplinary program offering students the opportunity to investigate the significance of race and ethnicity in all areas of human life per Stanford's website.) We reconnected and asked Alyssa to catch us up since we first met at “the Farm." She provided Partnership With Native Americans' American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program with a beautiful and empowering glimpse of her world.

Can you reflect on a challenge you encountered during your freshman year and how you overcame it — offering some advice to our new AIEF scholars entering their first year this fall?

A challenge I encountered freshmen year that I overcame was a feeling of missing my family as I am the oldest child and all of my siblings were still at home with my parents. I overcame this feeling by getting really busy with activities on campus and also my family visited campus a few times. I also looked forward to the time we had together on school breaks. So, my advice for those students who are going away from home for college, is that missing home is a normal feeling, but don’t let that get in the way of achieving your goal of finishing college and taking this time to grow and learn. Your family is proud of you and misses you too. Use FaceTime :)

A photo of Alyssa outside Alyssa has a love for traveling and experiencing other cultures.

What was the highlight of your academic career at Stanford?

The highlight of my academic career at Stanford was studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. It was magical. It inspired my love and travel and experiencing other cultures.

What is a postgraduation highlight you would like to share?

My postgraduation highlight would have to be becoming Miss Alaska USA 2017, designing and wearing a Tlingit gown, and speaking Tlingit on National Television at Miss USA 2017, and then finishing as a top 10 finalist. This was amazing in large part because I was told the reason the gown went viral was that it made a positive impact on people in Indian Country as they felt represented on a stage, they normally do not see themselves represented on.

A more recent post-graduation highlight to share is the publishing of my first Children’s Book, Journey of the Freckled Indian. This book is about a multi-cultural girl’s journey to becoming confident in her identity. The hope is that it helps other kids grow up being proud of all aspects that make them who they are.

Is there a consistent quality you possess that has aided you in your achievements thus far?

A consistent quality I possess that has aided me in my achievements so far in life, is persistence, a desire and willingness to learn, the ability to push through discomfort and imposter syndrome, and that I reach out to others and ask for help.

How has your degree contributed to your post-commencement life? Or, was there a specific course you took that has stayed with you personally and professionally?

A posed photo of Alyssa on stage, smiling Alyssa works to debunk the myth and misonception that Native people are a relic of the past.

The “Design Your Life” course has stayed with me personally and professionally because I am constantly applying those principles to how I choose to live. I truly feel that I am creating my life and making choices that provide the outcome I am experiencing, and I am more aware of that because of that course. Creating the life you want is often not easy and means saying no to things that are good, but not great. It also means oftentimes stepping out into the unknown.

I am also very influenced by my course of study, Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, because it informs the exploration of modern mixed-race and multi-cultural identity that I am undertaking with my brand, Culture Story.

I could go on; Stanford has had an amazingly positive impact on my post-commencement life. I think the degree also gave me critical thinking skills that have helped me as a lifelong learner so I can continue to entertain and pursue the ideas that come my way.

You have shared your culture story in so many ways, how did your bid for Miss USA 2017 impact your approach given your audience was so large and international.

Thank you for using the word, “Culture Story.” I agree, I strive to share my culture story and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

My bid for Miss USA 2017 impacted that specific approach to sharing my Culture Story because I wanted to use the visual aspect of the pageant, the gown, to communicate to the large international audience that Native people are still here. There is a misconception that Native people are a relic of the past and whether through a pageant or my TV series that is in development, I work to debunk that myth.

You serve as a role model for Indigenous youth, particularly girls — why is this work so important in our tribal communities?

A photo of Alyssa as Miss Alaska Alyssa serves as a role model for Indigenous Youth, particularly girls.

Thank you for saying I serve as a role model for Indigenous Youth, particularly girls! That is an honor. All positive role models are important in our tribal communities. We all need people we can identify with who we can then say, “well if she can do it, so can I.” That’s what Ashley Callingbull’s success in pageantry did for me, I felt that if she could be successful, perhaps I could too. I think that is why role models for our Native youth and girls are important. I hope that there are girls who want to follow in my footsteps, and believe that they can become a Stanford graduate, National pageant finalist, or anything else they put their mind to as well!

Who are your role models and why?

Sara Blakely is one of my entrepreneur role models because she is the epitome of pursuing an idea with energy, persistence, conviction, and having it work out because of her grit. She saw a gap in the marketplace, and she made a difference for women.

Jennifer Lopez is an entertainment industry success story who is very successful in business and entrepreneurship as well. I like her because she acts and performs, builds brands, and has several projects and business interests going on simultaneously that are managed by her and her teams. I want to have a successful entertainment and business career. There is a quote on Instagram that I often see tied to JLo. It is that no one knows what is inside of you but you. This resonates with me because many of my goals or accomplishments that I feel are within reach to attain are not how others may perceive me at this time. That just means they do not know what is inside of me or what I am building towards. I reflect on this often and hope others see the value in it for themselves as well.

I also look up to Priyanka Chopra and Charlize Theron for using their platforms to make a difference and their partnerships with United Nations and other non-profit philanthropic organizations.

What advice can you offer to inspiring entrepreneurs?

A photo of Alyssa in the red gown she designed "I hope that there are girls who want to follow in my footsteps, and believe that they can become a Stanford graduate, National pageant finalist, or anything else they put their mind to as well!"

My advice is to embrace that it is not a linear path. Owning your own successful business(es) can be the ultimate goal, but understand that sometimes you may have to have it be something you are working on simultaneously to a job that you are learning and gaining business acumen from while pursuing your dream.

What keeps you motivated? What do you do to take care of yourself?

What keeps me motivated is that time passes quickly. I feel like before I know it every year it’s my birthday or a holiday, and I reflect on how the last one feels like it just occurred. So knowing that every day accumulates and leads to the completion of projects and the culmination of dreams keeps me motivated to make the most of my days. I also feel like there is never enough time to learn everything so I always feel a fire under myself to make the most use of my time to learn and grow.

As the fire to pursue projects and goals burns hot under me, I take care of myself with nutritious food, hiking, biking, yoga, and running. Some may call my fitness my hobby, but I see it as a necessary aspect of being an individual that can excel in other areas of life like in business.

Do you have any future for graduate work?

I am a lifelong learner and constantly have a new book or course to consume. The internet is amazing in that a book from an expert or a course on a topic is always a click away. Therefore, I feel as though I am in a self-led graduate program as I pursue the goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur. As for formalized education, I have not pursued a master’s certificate that would credential me further since applying for MBA programs while I worked at Microsoft (2012-2014). I feel like my path may call me towards a formalized degree at some point, or I may continue learning the way I have been through self-directed courses, books, fellowships, conferences, and mentors. I wish adding up all the non-formalized studying I have done could yield a master’s certificate, having credentials does help in life.

What are your ultimate career goals?

My ultimate career goals (at the moment) are to be a successful TV and Movie producer, to have a rewarding acting career, and be an accomplished entrepreneur with Culture Story as a thriving enterprise.

What would you tell other Alaska Native/American Indian students that are considering going to college — particularly during this global pandemic?

I would tell Alaska Native/American Indian students that college is a period of self-exploration and self-development. Before you go out in the world and can make an impact, you need to get in touch with your unique skillset and the inner voice inside of you that is telling you what your callings are. I think college is a wonderful time to take various courses, meet new people, find mentors in your professors, and start defining what speaks to you as an individual. Pandemic or not, a lot of coursework is going to be online so do not shy away from pursuing college now by using the lack of in-person instruction as an excuse. A great deal of your work-life eventually will also be online so it is up to you to make a concerted effort to Zoom, FaceTime, and reach out on social media to make connections that may have otherwise happened more organically in the classroom or dorms.

A photo of Alyssa in the snow Don't forget to enter for your chance to win a copy of Alyssa's book!

How did the AIEF scholarship help you during your junior year of undergraduate work? How was the AIEF scholarship different than others?

The AIEF scholarship helped me during my junior year of undergraduate work by supporting some of the financial costs of being able to attend university. I am a big believer in applying for scholarships so to avoid having a lot of debt to pay off after college. Also, I had a great mentor, the late Doug Franco, that was assigned to me and met with me several times, I learned a great deal from him. I think the mentorship component is one of the aspects of the AIEF scholarship that makes it different from other scholarships, and I think that is highly valuable because lessons stick with you that people share.

Any final comments you like to add to encourage donors to continue supporting Native education and scholarships through AIEF?

It is important to support Native education and scholarships through AIEF because each student has a calling inside of them. This intent will manifest after college that will positively impact their community. So, by supporting Native education and AIEF, you are supporting strengthening Native communities around the country as these youth will give back and make a difference because they know who they are and where they come from.

AIEF is so grateful to Alyssa for sharing her story with us. Congratulations, Alyssa, and please remember that AIEF supports graduate programs if you decide to go for that "formalized degree!"

Thank you, our donors and friends, for supporting services like scholarships so that we can help students like Alyssa continue their education and help their communities. Don't forget to enter for your chance to win a copy of Alyssa's book, Journey of the Freckled Indian!

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