Jumping Out of the Comfort Zone: Dream Award Scholar Alayna Espeseth
By Pam Carlson
This winter will be very different from previous winters for Alayna Espeseth, a 2019 Scholarship America Dream Award Scholar. Instead of racing cars on ice or snowmobiling in her hometown of Erskine, Minnesota, near the North Dakota border, she’ll be attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu.
Alayna, a geology student, participated in the National Student Exchange at the University of Hawaii’s flagship campus and said, “I am hooked! Hawaii is a geographical hotspot. I wanted to be able to experience what the islands have to offer that North Dakota doesn’t. While the original plan was to attend for only one semester, I’m attending the fall 2019 semester in Hawaii as well.”
“I was nervous about participating in the national exchange, jumping out of my comfort zone to a place where I didn’t know anyone. It was huge for me and only makes me want to go and experience more,” Alayna said.
Overcoming the Odds
It is just shy of 3,900 miles from Honolulu back to Erskine, where Alayna grew up and attended the cooperative K-12 school known as Win-E-Mac. As a high school student, she played basketball and volleyball and went to the state tournament—the kind of achievement that brings out the entire community in a town the size of Erskine.
In 2015, Alayna was diagnosed with cancer, and that support from the community went to a new level. “Team Alayna” t-shirts were made and supporters wore them to games.
“Sometimes even our opponents would wear them,” Alayna said. “I feel like people gave me respect for not using my cancer as a weakness, but [as] something I have been able to grow through. Being diagnosed taught me I’ve always had supporters—even when I didn’t know it. Even though a few years have passed, if I reached out and needed help or someone to talk to, I know people would be willing.”
Alayna always loved nature and being outside. As she recovered and started planning her future, she decided to major in geosciences; that ultimately led her to apply for the National Student Exchange program in Hawaii. Her experiences as a college student have also led her to refine her career goals. “As teenagers, we know nothing about life and what we want to do,” Alayna said. “I recently have become interested in becoming a Geographic Information Analyst, dealing with web mapping and remote sensing. I would like to link the two together and discover new oil and gas deposits.”
Finding A Way Forward
Facing both medical bills and the growing cost of tuition, Alayna applied for Scholarship America’s Dream Award, noting that not only is college extremely expensive, but so is any type of illness. Becoming a Dream Award Scholar provided financial relief, and much more.
“Being the recipient of such an amazing award has proven I am capable. Many people don’t apply because they feel like the odds are very slim that they will be one of the select few,” Alayna said. “But to me that is already giving up on your dreams. You have to be willing to jump. Receiving the Dream Award is just the beginning of big things!”
“I am very thankful for the opportunities, love, faith and commitment Scholarship America has for its students. It is very inspiring and motivates me to do my best.”
That motivation is driving Alayna’s dedication to learning, growing and exploring the world—and her advice to other students is also informed by the adversity she has overcome: “Don’t try to change who you are for other people. It is okay to be selfish when it comes to your own wellbeing. Get out of your comfort zone and experiment with what you want to do with your life. It can be hard, but make choices for you, and not to just make other people happy. It’s your job to make yourself happy, not other people!”