My name is LittleDove Rey and I am currently a first-year doctoral student in clinical psychology at the PGSP-Stanford Psy.D. Consortium, a program run jointly by Palo Alto University and Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. While I am now working towards an advanced degree, I did not always think that I would pursue higher education. Growing up, college felt very out of reach. I am a first-generation college student, and throughout my life I did not know anyone who had attended college. Despite this, my journey led me to Sierra College in Fall 2013, where my life course would transform and ultimately help set me on the path to where I am today.
My story starts in my homeland. I am an enrolled member of the United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC) band of Maidu and Miwok. I was born and raised in Auburn, California, which is located in the original territory of my tribe. Growing up, I was blessed to be immersed in my culture. I spent many long nights dancing in the Chaw’se Roundhouse with my dad during ceremony, and it was the first place my parents took me after I was born. In 2005, my tribe established the UAIC tribal school and I attended it until high school. The transition to a public high school was hard. I went from taking classes centered around my culture and people, to feeling very isolated in the public-school system. My high school counselor never talked to me about college, likely due to my poor grades and not fulfilling the A-G requirements. As such, I never imagined a world where I pursued a college degree. Successfully graduating high school was a huge accomplishment for me and my family. At the time, I thought I would start working for my tribe after high school, but during the summer after graduation I learned that a recruiter from Sierra College was coming to the tribal school to talk about college. At first, I did not think I would attend the event, but my family wanted me to go to the presentation and listen to what they had to say.
That summer I met Alistair Turner, an enrollment specialist for Sierra College who did a phenomenal job of explaining what college is like, how to navigate enrollment, and the importance of pursuing higher education. His presentation made me realize that I could help my people much more with a degree, and perhaps more importantly, that I was capable of earning one. A week after that presentation I sat down with an education counselor for my tribe and enrolled in my first semester at Sierra. At that time, I remember feeling a multitude of emotions including anxiety, fear, and excitement for the fall quarter. I had no idea what to expect, and I doubted my ability to do well coming out of a rough high school experience. Despite these self-doubts, I committed to giving college my best shot and began my first semester in Fall 2013.
Today, I can say with a true heart that my time at Sierra College was invaluable. When I started in 2013 I was timid, shy, and did not know how to advocate for myself or use my voice. Over the next few years, my experiences at Sierra allowed me to blossom into a leader. From the very start of my college career, I knew that I wanted to help my own community and other tribal communities through my pursuit of higher education. Back then, I thought the best way to do this would be to become a psychiatrist. However, through my courses, meeting students from different walks of life and taking courses with professors from many different fields, I found my passion in the intersections between culture and mental health. This is something I could not have discovered if I had attended a four-year university right after high school. Attending Sierra College allowed me to learn more about myself as well as the hopes and aspirations that I had in a supportive and safe environment. I encourage every student who attends Sierra College to try different courses, step out of your comfort zone and learn what your passion is. Most importantly, know it is okay to change your mind based on your experiences.
One thing that is unique about Sierra College is the immense passion that both the professors and the students hold. At Sierra college, I joined the Native American Club and the Psychology Club. Through the clubs, I was able to work with and meet students whom I now consider lifelong friends. Many of these students taught me lessons outside of the classroom about life that were invaluable. Importantly, my peers taught me how to use my voice and how to stand up for what I believe in. The students at Sierra College are incredibly diverse, and having the opportunity to learn from peers from many different backgrounds and life experiences was an honor. When I started at Sierra College, there were no Native American studies courses; however, today as a result of the advocacy of former students like Tiffany Adams and Wendah Alvarez, there are several Native American studies courses. Getting involved in student leadership at Sierra College was one of the best things that I did when I attended. This was especially important to me, as Sierra College sits on a traditional village site of my ancestors−the Nisenan people.
In addition, connecting and engaging with professors allowed me to meet incredible lifelong mentors. Sierra College hires professors who truly care about student retention and success, which was a key piece in my higher education journey. Professors like Matthew Archer, Tamara Cheshire, Melissa Leal, and Michelle Johnson are just a few of the faculty who were eager and willing to provide mentorship and guidance about navigating higher education. As a first-generation student, hearing from individuals who had successfully earned advanced degrees gave me a lot of hope and insight into what my journey would be like after I graduated from Sierra. My best advice for Sierra College students is to attend office hours and reach out to professors whose courses you find engaging. Many of them have so much wisdom to share that can help you hone in on what you want to do after you graduate or transfer to a four-year institution.
While my journey at Sierra College was not always easy, the challenges I faced helped prepare me to go on and pursue my passions. I had to learn how to balance school, work, and cultural obligations during my time at Sierra. After three years, I graduated with my Associates of Science in Psychology in 2016. I feel that my time at Sierra College really set me up for success when I transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to pursue my bachelor’s degree in psychology. As a transfer student, I was able to bring a lot of unique perspectives to the table in the university setting; and, as a result of all of my Sierra College experiences, I feel I was better able to utilize university resources, pursue research opportunities with confidence, and use my voice in and outside of the classroom. At UCLA, I was also able to continue the student advocacy work that I started at Sierra through my appointment as the president of the American Indian Student Association (AISA). As part of my student advocacy at Sierra, I found a deep passion for helping underrepresented students succeed in higher education. At UCLA, I was able to expand on this passion when I began working as a student counselor for the Retention of American Indians Now (RAIN!), a program that aims to help retain Native American students at the university.
Despite thinking that I would never go to college, I graduated from UCLA in June 2018 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in American Indian Studies. When I was applying to doctoral programs during my senior year, I reached back out to the mentors that I met at Sierra College. Each of them were happy to listen and help answer the questions and concerns that I had about pursuing a doctoral level degree. Having this support when applying to graduate school made the experience far less intimidating and took some of the stress out of the application process. As a result of the immense support that I received from my community, friends, and mentors, I began pursuing my doctorate degree in Fall 2018. My research interests today include early mental health interventions for Native American adolescents, intergenerational trauma, and ethics for working in tribal communities. I hope one day to work for my tribe’s psychological services program, and also to become a community college instructor in psychology. Overall, my whole process through higher education has been a healing experience. Reclaiming my space in education as Native person has helped me to better understand and critically think about how to address the issues facing indigenous peoples in and outside of the U.S. Thinking back on my entire educational experience so far, Sierra College was a foundational part of my journey, and I am sure that I would not be where I am today if I did not enroll in my first semester back in 2013.
What I hope all students at Sierra College know is that you can do it. Whatever aspirations and goals that you have are achievable. There were times that I thought I would not graduate from high school, and I had to attend night school and summer school just to catch up on credits in order to graduate on time. Now I am working towards a doctorate degree. If I can do it, I truly believe that anyone can. The best way to be successful is to utilize all of the resources that Sierra College has to offer. Learning how to ask for help is an important step for anyone pursuing higher education. I used the tutoring and writing centers many times when I was a student, and it helped immensely when I was struggling with coursework. In addition, attending office hours and letting your professors know when you are struggling is okay; they truly want you to be successful. Lastly, creating a support system for yourself and practicing good self-care habits will make your journey much easier. The friends I met at Sierra College are family to me and they helped me when I needed extra support. Sometimes that meant holding each other accountable for assignments, and many times it involved pizza party study nights with classmates.
Most importantly, have fun. College is a time to grow, experience, and learn new things. This is an exciting time in your journey; find the path that fills you with passion, and pursue your dreams. I am proud to call myself a Sierra College Alumni, and I am rooting for each and every one of you.
Written by LittleDove Rey | Photography provided by LittleDove Rey