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Kacey Hopson | Public Policy Analysis

From: Anchorage, Alaska; currently living and working here

Pomona Days: Class of 2016 | Public Policy Analysis - Politics

Current Employment: Sustainability VISTA Fellow at First Alaskans Institute

Past Employment: Summer Associate, Environmental Equity at The Greenlining Institute


Hey y'all. I'm a recent graduate, currently serving my people and collective community at an indigenous, Alaska Native nonprofit based here in Anchorage, AK as an AmeriCorps VISTA (I am Inupiaq and Pakistani). As a first-generation, low-income high school student, I had no idea what the future had in store for me. I had no idea where I wanted to go, what I needed in an institution, or what life could look like for me beyond college. I didn't really know how to start figuring that out, either. My parents, though supportive, were unable to help me navigate this world of firsts. It's a world you must be prepared to walk through as a first-generation college student. You will face a lot of firsts. 

Thankfully, Pomona was filled with some of the best people I could have asked for, other first-generation students of color who lifted me up and who became a home away from home. Together, we helped each other succeed, we cheered each other on, and we helped each other navigate the world beyond us. The friends I've made at Pomona are friends I'll keep for life. Special thanks to Questbridge and the Draper Center for Community Partnerships for being places of community and growth. 

As a student at Pomona, I found myself immediately drawn to questions of equity, fairness, and justice. I wanted to know what tools I had at my disposal to better the world and better my communities. Naturally, I turned to public policy. Along the way, though, I studied other avenues for change and community betterment, including campaign organizing, business, and law. I am especially passionate about racial equity, and view that as a common thread that connects much of my passion and interests.

A few pieces of advice for current students, especially first-gen students: 1) Don't feel the need to fill your schedule with a million activities; for me, that culture of business was a bit toxic; instead, focus on finding the things that you truly enjoy and do them well. 2) Get in the habit of challenging yourself to move beyond your comfort zone; if something makes you nervous, see if you can push yourself and try it out. 3) Try to avoid going into auto-pilot mode and living out your days passively. Sometimes, when we're tired beyond belief and stressed, all we can manage is the act of getting out of bed and going to class. But, I urge you to take care of yourself and try to remain actively engaged as much as you can. Take ownership of your experience, always, and never let yourself become a passive participant in your own experience.4) Reach out to people, professors, potential friends, and professionals regularly, and ask them about their lives. Get in the habit of learning from others, especially if you are first-generation. You will learn so many things about the world and the professional world that you could not learn in a classroom. Do this rigorously, especially if you are first-gen. I never learned more about what was possible in the world outside of college than when I spoke with folks whose work I admired. 5) Protect your free time, and never let school get in the way of building meaningful friendships. Classwork is not the only important thing in your life. 6) Starting in your first year, carve out and allocate time to intentionally explore possible career paths connected to your interests. Visit the CDO, contact Alumni, do the things I mentioned in point number 4, talk to other students, etc. Your interests will change, but you should always be exploring opportunities throughout every step. Don't wait until your 3rd and 4th year. 

Reach out to me to discuss anything mentioned above, or anything else you can think of! I'm open to discussing what its like to be a first-gen college student, what its like to be an indigenous student / minority student, what it was like at the Draper Center for Community Partnerships, as well as the nonprofit and social justice community more broadly. I also have a lot to say to other first-generation students, especially regarding what I would have done differently in college regarding career-building. I can also speak to what its like working in indigenous spaces in Alaska.