Geography alumna, Alysia Ballinger, featured in CNN opinion article.

A first generation college graduate's journey: I am a first generation college graduate. My journey towards higher education is a story of service, community development and environmental conservation. It all began when I was 22 years old, after I enrolled in a partnership program between the California Conservation Corps (CCC) and AmeriCorps, service learning programs developed to serve communities and develop youth. I worked on conservation and trail building projects across California. Both of these programs provided scholarships based on the amount of hours I completed within my program. I used these scholarships to enroll in a community college. I began by taking remedial math and English classes. These classes are no longer required since placement tests traditionally used by colleges tend to "under-place" a significant portion of students.

After earning enough credits and obtaining an associates degree in transfer studies, I transferred to Humboldt State University and completed my BA in geography with a minor in natural resources and planning. During this time, I worked seasonally for the US Forest Service and as a research assistant for a professor on climate change studies and bark beetle migration. After completing my degree, I was accepted into the US Peace Corps to serve as a community based natural resource manager. After completing my Peace Corps service, I received a fellowship and continued my education by earning a masters degree in sustainable development at the School for International training.

Alysia Ballinger, Willits, California

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