Ever since Alexandria McLearen—Alex for short—was a little girl, there have been three things in life she was absolutely sure about. She knew she would attend college, stay in Alaska and that she would pursue a medical degree. The fall 2017 commencement student speaker is the first in her family to graduate from college but said her parents always encouraged her to chase her dreams and to pursue higher education.
“All throughout my childhood, my whole family and I talked about college and the future,” Alex said. “They just really grew that in me.”
Alex said she’s always loved to learn and early on she fell in love with science. She’s graduating this month with a Bachelor of Science in natural sciences, along with two minors in Alaska Native studies and psychology. After graduation, she intends to apply to the Alaska WWAMI School of Medical Education.
Alex’s parents met in the military, and after completing their service they moved on to new careers. They hoped for better for their children and worked hard to provide Alex and her brother with opportunities they didn’t have growing up. Education was often talked about in her house and her parents encouraged her early on to explore her interests.
“They really saw that success came from education,” said Alex. When she’d ask her parents questions they’d often say, ‘Well, I guess you better go to college then.’”
She said she’s incredibly grateful for her parents’ guidance. In return, she’s making them proud by thriving and continuing her education after earning her undergraduate degree.
Alex said she was never one of those teens who was set on leaving Alaska after high school. She loves her home state. Growing up, her mother, who is Cup’ik and originally from Chevak—a village in Western Alaska—kept the cultural traditions alive in the McLearen household.
Strong ties to home and culture are part of what influenced Alex’s decision to attend UAA and pursue her degrees, but two experiences—one through the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), and a summer program at Brown University—solidified her college decision. She said her East Coast experience was eye-opening, but she missed home—the mountains, people and places that were familiar and comforting. Her ANSEP experience was much different and made her realize that she didn’t need to go far to receive a great undergraduate education.
“ANSEP showed me that UAA was the real deal,” Alex said. “I was going to get a good education and I was going to get it in the context and terms that meant the most to me.”
Growing up, Alex learned early on in school that math and science were her strengths, and although she knew she’d be college-bound one day, it was her grandmother who said, “You’re going to be a doctor.”
“I grew up learning that this is something that I can do, and something I can do in Alaska,” Alex said. “Science is where I feel challenged—where I get excited—so I just try to follow the excitement.” There have been a few times where she’s thought about veering off and exploring other options but said inevitably the lure of science keeps pulling her back.
“I just love it—it makes the world a whole complex system that I couldn’t have imagined before,” she said.
She acknowledges she had high expectations of herself throughout college and has taken advantage of the many opportunities both in academics and in student clubs while at UAA. When she wasn’t in a lecture hall or studying in the library, you could find her on campus representing students as the USUAA delegate for the College of Arts and Sciences, serving as a Green Fee Board member, presenting at the Undergraduate Research and Discovery Symposium or providing sisterly advice as a Big Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Throughout her four years at UAA, Alex has carved a path for herself. Although her undergraduate career is coming to a close, she is excited about what lies ahead.
“Home is where I want to make change and do better for the people who raised me.”
Written by Catalina Myers, UAA Office of University of Advancement