Aleja Allen will be graduating on May 12 with a master’s degree in modern European history from the University of New Mexico. Allen’s graduate education focused on Irish studies, particularly comparing Derry, Northern Ireland and the Irish community in South Boston in the Civil Rights Era.
According to Allen, her passion for history began as a child. Allen grew up as a third generation New Mexican in Pie Town, New Mexico. She had academically debilitating dyslexia and had to be home-schooled because she could not read by the 3rd grade. However, with the help of her mother and grandmother, she began to read.
Allen said the first books that she read were the American Girl books. She said she was fascinated by the historical stories and from then on out she new that history was for her. Allen said during her undergraduate career she took an Irish history class with her advisor Caleb Richardson and fell in love with Irish history and culture.
“I got the support I needed when I came to UNM,” Allen said. “The history professors here were my rocks.”
According to Richardson, Allen is a passionate student that always has a strong work ethic that allows her to go above and beyond. Richardson said Allen always puts in the work necessary to reach her goals and become a competent professional.
Allen’s research comparing the Irish communities of Derry, Ireland and South Boston, Massachusetts examined how the two otherwise similar communities reacted differently to the Civil Rights Movement. According to Richardson, Allen’s historical research was groundbreaking because the two communities, though alike in culture, political views and socioeconomic status, took two very different approaches to the Civil Rights Movement.
According to Allen, the Irish-Catholic community in Derry marched to end discrimination, but the Irish community in Southern Boston marched in opposition to desegregation of schools. Allen’s research examines the differences between these two seemingly similar communities and why they took such different routes at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
Richardson said he has no doubts that Allen will succeed. According to Allen, Richardson has always been supportive of her academic pursuits and told her she could do anything that she put her mind to. Allen has applied to three universities in Ireland and plans on moving to Ireland in the fall to pursue her doctoral degree.
“She is not just interested and enthusiastic about her chosen area of study, but she is also willing to put in the long hours necessary to become a professional in the field,” Richardson said.
Allen said one of the biggest rewards during her academic career was completing her thesis, which was about one hundred pages long.
Allen said that during her undergraduate and graduate career she suffered from depression, but has found strength because of her battle with it. Allen said she helped parent both of her younger siblings after her parents got divorced during college. After grieving her parents’ divorce and feeling much happier, she said she feels her challenges have helped her grow.
“(Depression) was an obstacle, but I have found it’s really important not to give up,” Allen said. “If I give up the universe is going to win. You have to keep trying.”
Allen has been working as an assistant editor at the New Mexico Historical Review, she said, and has loved working with the authors, writing and editing. She said it was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences.
Allen hopes to someday teach at a university. She said one of her dreams is to someday have the opportunity to teach at UNM and continue the work that her professors did in inspiring students to learn about history.
“I would love to come back and teach at UNM. My department is interested in expanding the modern European section and that would be amazing,” Allen said.
Megan Holmen is a freelance news and culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_holmen.