“It’s very impressive to a lot of the community members,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you speak Tagalog, are you from the Philippines? I’m like ‘No.’ ‘So you just learned it?’ ‘Yep, I just learned it.’”
Her ability draws a little teasing, though.
“Granted they’re like ‘Hah, you have an accent … you just sound so posh and American,’” Alda said. “Because I am! I don’t know what accent I’m supposed to have.”
Alda has found it hard to keep her language skills sharp while attending college, though. She doesn’t find many other Filipinos who speak Tagalog in Fairbanks.
The language is very different from English, she said.
“There are a lot of syllables, and if you miss a syllable it changes the meaning. And if you change which syllable you stress, it changes the meaning,” she said. “So if you’re trying to say ‘friend’ but you stress the wrong syllable, you say ‘lover.’ Then you’re like, ‘No, no, that’s not what I meant.’”
Success at UAF
When she came to UAF, Alda entered the pre-nursing certificate program. An anatomy and physiology class with Sandy Lewis, a former adjunct faculty member in the Department of Biology and Wildlife, changed that plan.
Alda wrote Lewis as an incoming first-year student, asking to take the 200-level class.
“I emailed her in the summer and was like ‘Hey, I took anatomy and physiology in high school. I did very well. I’m an honors student … please let me in your class.’”
Lewis did, and the lab work changed Alda’s plan.
“I love being in labs,” she said. “I can look under the microscope and basically diagnose patients. That’s pretty sweet.”
She switched to seek a four-year biology degree with an emphasis on biomedical science.
The anatomy class was hard, though.
“Throughout high school, I was in IB [International Baccalaureate] classes. I was in AP [Advanced Placement] classes. A lot of the things I did were purely memorization,” she said. “It was her class that really taught me to not learn things through memorization but to learn through concepts.”
“I can look under the microscope and basically diagnose patients. That’s pretty sweet.”
Alda said she’s now interested in becoming certified to work as medical laboratory scientist. She has no plans to jump into graduate studies. She said she needs to take a little time to recover from the mental and emotional strain of the past year.
In the meantime, she’s working as an assistant admissions counselor at UAF.
She first joined the Admissions Office in 2018 as a student ambassador.
“It has opened so many doors. I’ve met so many cool people through it,” she said. Students across campus greet her regularly, remembering her sometimes as their first contact at UAF.
Anna Gagne-Hawes ’09, UAF’s director of admissions, said Alda has a rare gift for the work.
Alda can be on the phone charging up an incoming first-year student one minute and the next be comforting a single parent in tears wondering how to make college work, Gagne-Hawes said.
“She’s very intuitive about where people are at,” Gagne-Hawes said. “She’s able to switch gears very quickly.”
“It’s easy to be disconnected from what an emotional thing it is for many people to apply for college,” Gagne-Hawes said. “There’s just a lot of emotions involved in the process, both positive and intimidating.”
Alda’s background from a multigenerational immigrant family may help her navigate those different emotions, Gagne-Hawes said.
“A real value you get out of that is you physically live with people who are in different places in their lives,” she said. “You learn to pivot and adjust.”
The past year challenged Alda like no other.
“I saw her tested hard, and she proved how strong and resilient she is,” Gagne-Hawes said.
Alda, who graduated with cum laude honors, was selected as the student speaker for the 2021 commencement ceremony. She also received the 2021 Marion Frances Boswell Award, given to an outstanding bachelor’s degree candidate.
A deliberative signature
Alda said she intentionally placed the tattoo she carries on her arm so it’s not the first thing people notice about her. It becomes visible only when she lifts her arm to move her hair or brush away a mosquito.
The distinctive image adorns her left forearm, because that’s closest to the hand that held her father’s when he died of a stroke.
He was just 49 years old. Alda was with him when it happened. His speech slurred. His motions became awkward.
From her biomedical training, she knew what was happening. His lifestyle, working two jobs, getting no sleep and the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic overcame him, she said.
He spent a week in the hospital in Anchorage before dying.
“I saw her tested hard, and she proved how strong and resilient she is.”
The next day, Alda made an appointment to get the tattoo.