UAA sociology major is the university’s first Beinecke Scholar

by Catalina Myers  |   

Christina Hailperin, a junior majoring in sociology and minoring in social welfare, was recently awarded the Beinecke Scholarship. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

 On paper, Beinecke Scholarship recipient Christina Hailperin would appear like the 20 college juniors who are awarded the scholarship each year to help pursue graduate studies. However, Hailperin’s story is anything but traditional. The first student to receive the prestigious award at UAA, the 30-something mother of four has overcome many challenges toward earning her degree.

“I am the opposite of a traditional student,” said Hailperin. “I am a high school dropout — I didn’t get my GED until I was almost 30 — I am mixed race and was raised by my Indigenous side of the family.”

Born and raised in Alaska, Hailperin’s family’s Indigenous roots are from Oklahoma’s Muscogee Creek Nation (Deer Clan) and she was influenced by her grandmother who passed down her knowledge of her historical heritage. Hailperin said growing up her family had a contentious relationship with the education system and that furthering one’s education was not something that happened often. Hailperin is one of three cousins in her extended family to attend college, and the first in hers. 

As a single mother working full time, entertaining the idea of attending school was not an option. It was not until Hailperin found herself in a more stable position with her supportive now-husband, that she considered attending UAA. Originally she enrolled as a social work major, but after taking one sociology class, fell in love with the discipline and switched her major to sociology, but is still pursuing a minor in social welfare.

“Starting out, when I was a social work major, I wanted to be the difference my family needed,” said Hailperin. “But when I got into the sociology department and took those first few classes, I realized that macro was the only way to go. I wanted to fully understand the situation that I was a product of and studying sociology gave me a pathway to that.”

As she got older, Hailperin realized the benefits education could have not only on herself but to also help her understand and heal the historical trauma her family and people experienced within the Western education system.

“It was this realization of ‘Why is family suffering?’ ‘Why is it hard for them to make ends meet?’ They are good people who work hard,” said Hailperin. “I think that’s what pulled me into sociology because I didn’t have the words for it or the understanding of the role historical trauma was playing in my family.” She feels understanding and addressing the role the educational system played in her family, as well as other Indiginous families, will improve outcomes for future Indigenous students.

When Hailperin decided to return to school and began taking classes at UAA, she realized the steep upward slope she was on to catch up to her younger peers.

“It’s difficult, especially when you’re starting at a deficit,” said Hailperin. “The basic knowledge that people walk into college with I just didn’t have.” Despite the odds stacked against her, Hailperin persisted and progressed quickly to catch up with her classmates. She has plans for graduate school and has taken advantage of undergraduate research opportunities at UAA, including tackling applying for a prestigious scholarship. She feels that without the guidance and encouragement she received from her professors and mentors, she would not have imagined herself a good candidate.

Succeed she has. Her professors in the sociology department took note and several of Hailperin's mentors reached out to her about the Beinecke Scholarship, encouraging her to apply because of her sharp focus on conducting undergraduate research and her desire to pursue graduate studies.

“I’ve begun exploring the development of Indigenous identity in an urban context,” said Hailperin. “Things are looking very different for the Indigenous way of life than they used to be. I’m also, naturally, very interested in my family history and how the historical trauma still plays a role in education for Indigenous students.”

Currently, Hailperin is looking at master's and Ph.D. sociology programs out of state but is incredibly grateful for the opportunities afforded her at UAA. 

For Hailperin, receiving the Beinecke Scholarship is “overwhelming in the best way.” She sees her education as a pathway to success and to helping other Indigenous students navigate the education system.

“My greatest aspiration would be to affect policy and to improve the situation for students now,” said Hailperin. 

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