Alyssa H.

Doctoral student and dancer who will try any food at least twice.

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Mom enrolled me in dance class when I was 5 years old because she wanted me to be graceful. She figured I liked this new hobby since I never complained when she drove me to the dance studio week after week. Too bad I can’t say the same about my piano lessons, because the only thing I can play is that Vanessa Carlton song from the movie White Chicks.

Dance didn’t become a negative distraction until my undergraduate college years. College is known as a time for experimentation. Instead of trying drugs, I explored different movement (zero cool points). I tried hip hop, Filipino cultural dancing, Indian cultural dancing, and the occasional salsa performance. At one point I spent more hours in dance rehearsal than I did in class. While dance and other social distractions took over, my grades severely suffered.

Fast-forward to 2016. Somehow I’m a couple of months away from obtaining a Doctor of Audiology degree with a GPA I can be proud of. How the heck did I get here? This is my attempt at figuring out the answer to that question.

Finding the right “carEAR”

Audiologists are hearing and balance specialists. Have you ever seen that YouTube video of the deaf child who hears his mom’s voice for the first time? Somewhere in that room, there is an Audiologist who turns on the device that allows the boy to hear.

I pursued Audiology after I heard about it from a friend, took an intro course, and found that it was less painful than the plant biology classes I had taken (and retaken). The more interested I was during lectures, the less time I needed to study for exams. Soon I started earning good grades while having extra hours for dance.

Two years of college had gone by before I picked the right major, but it was worth the wait. I understand the pressures of choosing a specific occupation, but there are so many other fields to consider besides Medicine or Law. I didn’t know Audiology was a thing until I was 20 years old. Maybe you didn’t know about it until today. Don’t be afraid to keep searching for your niche.

Audiology has helped me appreciate dance in unexpected ways. Now I know what happens when music hits our eardrums. I’ve studied our body’s systems that help us balance on one foot. I understand the importance of limiting loud music exposure to keep ears healthy. I’ve met children who are deaf but are able to relate, communicate, and play with us through movement. Someday, I hope to connect my two worlds by offering dance classes for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

I’ve realized that my work life and dance life don’t have to clash. I just needed to get creative and discover how dance compliments my career.

Finding the right friends

My involvement with dance was one of the few healthy relationships I maintained during freshman year. Dance kept me happy, social, and physically fit. Instead of dumping a good part of my life, I had to sacrifice the bad.

I hung out with some pretty rotten people during that first year of college. One of those people was dismissed from my school because of the harm they inflicted on others. It was that bad. Although it seems selfish, cutting people out of your life can be necessary for your wellbeing.

It was time for me to take the reins on my life and direct myself towards a better future. Having positive and goal-oriented friends kept me on the right path. Fortunately I’ve found kind, genuine, and determined peers that motivate and inspire me every day. #squadgoalsachieved

“Fake it ‘til you make it”

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is a phrase I’ve heard dancers say when they don’t know how to execute a move, but they push through and go along with the motions until they get it right. I believe the “fake it until you make it” mindset is part of how I ended up here today.

I had an embarrassingly low undergraduate GPA even after switching majors, removing negative influences from my life, and earning excellent grades my final years of college. I was not confident that any doctoral program would accept me. But I tried. I fooled myself into thinking I was good enough to apply for one of our country’s top 10 Audiology programs -- And I got in. Second chances do exist.

Still, the insecurities trickled in and rained on my parade. Now I actually had to attend this doctoral program, trick everyone to believe I was smart enough, and make it out alive!

On top of that, I had to move from St. Louis to the big, intimidating city of Chicago. I was on my own but dance continued to be by my side. Dance created a bond with my Audiology classmate when we took tap lessons together. Dance introduced me to incredibly talented people with diverse life experiences. Dance guided me to join my current performing team, CODA.

I currently rehearse with CODA twice a week. That’s my time to relieve stress, exercise, stretch my artistic muscle, and laugh alongside friends. The rest of my days are filled with full-time clinicals, paperwork, school assignments, and side projects including research or medical service trips abroad. I don’t have everything under control. My apartment could be cleaner. I want to work on being a better daughter, girlfriend, sister, and friend. But I’ve learned to cut myself some slack and focus only on the important things each week so I can reach my main goal. 

When I graduate, it'll prove that I’ve made it and I’m no longer faking it; the potential was within me all along. I am a dancer AND a successful doctoral student. I guess I’m a writer now, too. I’m not a pianist, but three out of four isn’t so bad.