"I know that an investment in me is an investment in our communities."
“Scholarships are a large part of my educational goals and needs. I know that an investment in me is an investment in our communities. As a child of a large family my financial need weighs heavily on my own actions. I will continue to find ways to support my education goals without the help of my family in hopes that my siblings will have the funding to attend college as well. This degree is important to my family, community and self.”
Unaliin goes by her English name of Teressa. She is an enrolled member of the Kiana Traditional Council in rural Alaska.
Teressa has invested her time, skills, and heart into her community.
She grew up in a household of six children and graduated from a boarding school in Sitka, Alaska. With a small graduating class of just over 80, she credited her boarding school experiences and summer oceanography research projects in San Diego for landing her an acceptance letter to a San Diego university. Her university home of four years boasted an undergraduate student body of 30,000 — eight times the population of her hometown.
"I never thought attending college was obtainable."
Only two colleges were sent applications: her current school in San Diego and Dartmouth. She explained, “I really didn’t think college was an option.” This sentiment was shared in her scholarship essay as well. It stated, “I never thought attending college was obtainable.”
Teressa recalled being accepted in the university and thinking that there was no way she could afford the out of state tuition and fees. Fortunately, Teressa’s GPA and ACT score were exactly what our scholarship committee was seeking. AIEF was one of the scholarships she received, but she also credited her community being supportive of her finances, as well as the financial aid packages provided by the university system. All of this helped her make the decision to travel south and attend her undergraduate studies as a sociology major with a science and medicine emphasis.
Our AIEF staff visited with Teressa a day before the school’s Thanksgiving break. She had just submitted her request for graduation in the spring and was excited at the prospect of her large family attending the ceremonies. She reflected on her passions before college, as well as her nearly four years as a student.
Only two colleges were sent applications: her current school in San Diego and Dartmouth.
Teressa carried an impressive resume even before starting college. She was one of the first Native youth to be named a Champion of Change through President Obama’s Native American Youth Challenge. She established a nonprofit organization to help high schools across Alaska initiate a suicide prevention and awareness program on their campuses. She was awarded $25,000 to support these efforts — “Hope4Alaska” — which included a state resolution to train all teachers in suicide prevention.
This incredible young Native American student continued to spend a great deal of her time advocating — both in California and Alaska — for all youth and indigenous people throughout the United States. An independent study course resulted in a special show at the California Women’s Museum in San Diego entitled “Tradition Moderns.”
This exhibit highlighted Native American Women Artists in California, which “makes visible social and political understandings of Indian Country through the visual work of 5 women artists from tribal communities who live and work in California and whose work has a direct link to their long and vibrant past.” In collaboration with the Woman’s Museum of California, U.C. San Diego students, including Teressa, curated this exhibit as part of a course in Ethnic Studies in partnership with the artists they selected. She credited this class, professor, and experience as further developing her communication skills.
Teressa is awaiting the results from applications submitted to two law schools.
The summer was no vacation for her as she dedicated at least twenty hours each week studying and prepping for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). She was happy with the results and was awaiting the responses from applications submitted to two law schools: Stanford and University of New Mexico.
Teressa had a good foundation of support from her family, their traditions, and her Alaskan community. It was what kept her striving to learn more and impact others with her traditional and modern knowledge. She expounded, “All of this time away from home is for me to gain the skills I need to return home and work in and for my community.”
AIEF is very fortunate to have Teressa in our Scholarship Awardees class. We expect to receive another scholarship application as she enters her next educational phase. Her investment into her community deserves our support.