Alissa Van Tassell said dreams are much like the plants she studied and tended on her way to a double major in botany and archeology.
“Plants grow and change for a long time, and then all of a sudden, there’s a beautiful flower,” Van Tassell said. “The faculty, staff and friends I’ve made at Weber State have been the ones watering me, helping me achieve my dreams and goals. With their support, just like a plant, my dreams and goals have grown bigger and bigger.”
After graduating with honors in the spring of 2019, Van Tassell headed to a master’s program in botany at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
No one is more surprised at her success than Van Tassell, whose education nearly withered as a high school dropout. She earned a degree only after her 4-year-old daughter enrolled in Head Start, which offered parents a path to graduation.
“I decided back then I wanted a diploma, just so my kids knew they had to get at least a high school degree, so I like to tell people I actually graduated from Head Start,” she said.
With three children, an ailing mother and household bills, Van Tassell used her high school education to secure a variety of jobs in business. Finally, she decided the future looked brighter as a university graduate, and Weber State was the right combination of convenience and affordability.
“My very first day at Weber State, I pulled into Dee Events Center to park, and I sat in my car looking at all these young kids, going, I’m too old, I don’t know what I’m doing here,” Van Tassell said. “I probably sat there for five minutes just giving myself a pep talk before I got out of my car and got on the shuttle bus.
“Initially I started out being the quiet kid in class. I figured I was too old for college, so I kept my head down and took tests the day they opened. But as I got in the botany department, I was able to step out of my box. I learned I was a lot smarter than I ever gave myself credit.”
In addition to her course work, Van Tassell served as botany club president, worked as a laboratory and greenhouse assistant, earned scholarships, received a grant to conduct and present undergraduate research on flavonoids and anthocyanin in elderberries. She also participated in extended summer field projects.
“Weber State definitely taught me to step out of my box and become the person I want to be and not the person I think people want me to be,” she said.
Van Tassell hopes she might get another chance to bloom as a Wildcat: “My goal, I think, eventually, is to come back to Weber State as a professor.”