Alexis Perea was a driven college student, pushing her studies into a near-impossible timeline.
Perea found the motivation to not only succeed as the first generation in her family to go to college, but also finish her undergraduate degree in three years.
Today, the South Omaha native is a role model for women and students of color attending Bellevue University where she is senior director of admissions.
“When I was in college, I was told you are not going to be able to finish undergrad in three years,” she said. “It was actually my college adviser, ‘There is no way you’ll be able to do this.’ Well, yes, I can do this. I’ll prove it and I’ll get it done.”
Perea’s goal to finish in three years paid homage to her father, who was one of the sources of her unflinching resolve. Even if she had to work full-time while taking a back-breaking load of classes – which she did – she wasn’t about to fail.
“My dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer while I was in college, so I felt I needed to show him that I can do something, even after he’s gone,” she said. “I ended up finishing my undergraduate degree in three years so he could see me walk for my bachelor’s degree.
“Then, I felt if he was still going, so should I. So, I pursued my master’s degree and he had the opportunity to see me graduate with my master’s degree as well. He passed away a few months after that.”
In between receiving her undergrad and graduate degrees, Perea joined the staff of her alma mater. She moved into the guild partnership position in 2019 and recently added admissions director to her title. Through these positions, she gets to work with many students who remind her of herself, something she finds most rewarding.
“Most of our students at Bellevue University are first-generation students,” she said. “Many of these students have barriers coming in, such as communication, technology and just understanding the support systems we have at Bellevue University.
“As a first-generation student myself, I have the chance for me to relate to this population now, giving them the opportunity to complete Pathway to Success, which is a new student orientation and get comfortable with the college format prior to starting class.”
If There’s Will, There’s a Way
Perea also helps students afford the cost of a college education through the guild partnership program, which connects people with tuition benefits through their workplace.
“Bellevue University has a partnership with Guild Education, which works with employers in corporations on really up-scaling individuals,” she said. “Walmart, Disney World, Chipotle and Taco Bell, just to name a few, offer cap-funded degrees and some of them have debt-free programs. It gives their employees a real opportunity to go to school without financial barriers.”
As if her job didn’t provide enough opportunities to pay it forward, Perea has also found other ways to mentor youth, giving them an even earlier boost in school.
“My fulfillment is always through youth in the community,” she said. “I found the mentorship program through Partnership for Kids and I’m mentoring ninth graders back at South High School where I attended school.
“Youth just need an opportunity, like I did. There have been a bunch of them who remind me of myself. I don’t want to be the person telling them they can’t do something; they need the kind of support system that says, ‘You can do this. Don’t let anyone hold you back.’”