First-Generation Kānaka Maoli Stanford Student, Jaysha Kuuipoaloha Alonzo-Estrada | Using Community Resources as a Tool for Academic Empowerment
First-generation Native Hawaiian Stanford student, Jaysha Kuuipoaloha Alonz-Estrada, talks about changing majors, following her path and utilizing community resources in high school and in college (4-H, College Horizons, Leland Scholars Program, Muwekma Tah-Ruk) to empower her throughout her academic career.
Tell us about your background and where you grew up.
I was born and raised on Hilo and attended Kamehameha Schools on the Big Island. I was fortunate to attend, because the private school is funded through the endowment of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great.
Growing up, many of my interests were in natural sciences, animals, and biology, so I did my senior capstone project on the effects of Hilo Native Hawaiian plants on cancer cells and the way it could inhibit cancer growth. I also participated in one of 4-H’s youth development programs focused on agricultural processes. In that program, I learned about animal stewardship, nonprofit finances, etc.
Besides my interest in natural sciences, I participated in many sports (soccer, softball, cross country) and the National Honor Society.
What motivated you to go to college?
My mom is the main reason I pursued a college degree. She was the one who pushed me to do my best academically. I also liked school and knew that college was the way to break out of the cycle of poverty. In that way, I saw college as a natural part of my path after high school. I’m very grateful to be the first in my family to go to college.
Did you use any resources to prepare for the college application process?
My junior year, I participated in College Horizons, a program for Native Hawaiians, Native Americans and Alaska Natives. They helped me fill out the FAFSA and polish my college essays.
I was also fortunate enough to have SAT prep classes offered at my high school on the weekends which I took advantage of.
How was your academic transition from high school to college?
The summer before freshman year, I applied for the Leland Scholars Program (LSP), which helps first-generation and/or low-income Stanford freshmen with the transition to college. It was a great program that prepared me realistically for the rigor expected in STEM courses.
I was also lucky to be housed my freshman year in the only indigenous-focused house on campus, Muwekma Tah-Ruk, and I enjoyed being surrounded by my indigenous peers.
Choosing a college degree can be difficult. How did you choose your major?
When I entered college, I was set on becoming a veterinarian, but I quickly realized that medicine was more of the route for me. I started taking pre-med courses, working with the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program, shadowing doctors, and participating in the Natives in Medicine club.
By sophomore year, I decided that becoming a doctor wasn’t the right path for me, but knew I wanted to help people in some way. That’s when I came across the field of public health. I found that the focus of the degree was more on making programs focused on population and prevention, which interested me. So now I’m majoring in Human Biology with a focus on social determinants of public health, with the hope of tackling public health issues from a policy and systemic health policy level.
Have you encountered any barriers in college?
The biggest barriers were navigating the institution and being away from home and family. It was definitely difficult adjusting to the change in community and people.
Do you have any advice for Pacific students preparing for college?
You don’t need to be grinding all the time in order to succeed. Take it at your own pace and enjoy your college experience.
As a low-income student, find ways to fine$$e in college. Whether that be through on campus jobs, looking for resources on your campus that will pay you to work or travel during the summer, or simply being persistent with the financial aid office. The worst answer you can get is “no.”
Get involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible.
A lot of my classmates regret not working as hard at school, so keep in mind that school is for a greater purpose and try your best.
Keep your community in mind. Be grateful for where you come from.
Don’t be afraid to really, truly study what interests you.
Don’t focus solely on how much you will get paid. Make your own path.