Like many University of New México (UNM) Lobos, when Alexa Pohl first walked onto the UNM campus, she knew several different paths lay ahead of her. While her degree path may have changed over time, she hasn’t wavered from her end goal – to help make the world a better place. And like many Lobos of the past and present, she credits her parents for helping her feel comfortable and confident as she faced the world with compassion.
“I like to think that a lot of who I am is because of my parents. I grew up in a household where everything was just so free and so open, where I was blinded from the cruelty of the world.”
This compassionate view of the world helped Pohl get through one of the toughest times of her life when she was subjected to bullying by those she thought of as friends. When she was being attacked by others, instead of reacting in kind, she responded with kindness.
“I had a long stage where I was really bullied and I wondered, ‘why are we allowing other people to make others feel less than who they are and what they feel for themselves?’ That’s when I realized if I don’t exude the kindness that I want for myself, I’m not going to get anywhere. I’m going to be ‘Nice Alexa’ and see what happens.”
This approach helped Pohl get past this time of her life and eventually inspired her to learn more about kindness, compassion, and social justice. She kept this compassionate worldview close to her heart when she headed to UNM. Originally Pohl wanted to study to become an anesthesiologist. But the longer she stayed at UNM, the more she realized that her passion was in helping people, and she didn’t think that working in the medical field would fulfill that need. So, she reached out to her friends and asked herself what she liked to do.
“I like talking, and I like people. What can I do with this? I love hearing other people’s stories. My opener for people I don’t really know is ‘what are you passionate about? Tell me something that makes you, you.’ And that starts the conversations that I like, instead of just asking ‘how are you doing today?”
One of the things Pohl realized was she didn’t just like talking with people, she loved discovering where people came from, their history, and the different cultures they came from. Pohl had the opportunity to experience some of these new cultures firsthand when she took The University’s “Refugee Wellbeing Program” course. Her professors couldn’t miss her passion for helping people, and one of them recommended the class. The first step to signing up for the new program was an interview to see if she would be a good fit for the demands of the course.
“I went in to be interviewed and as I was talking and hearing other student’s testimonies, I realized, ‘you know what? This is the right fit for me’.”
During this yearlong Sociology course, she met several refugee families in the Albuquerque area and spoke out on their behalf. Each time she met with a new family, she realized that the preconceived notions about refugees reported in the media seemed to be off the mark.
“Once I started getting partnered up with families I was so enthralled by the idea of getting into their minds and figuring out what they were going through. Because we have this notion in our minds, based on the media, of who refugees are. I learned so much about myself, and to take back those preconceived emotions that people embed in you.”
“These refugees were coming into our country and using all the conflict and sadness they carried with them to help fuel them. They realized that this is a new opportunity and they are taking it as a clean slate and trying to figure out how to fit in our system.”
Pohl shifted her academic focus from medical school to International Relations and Communication, minoring in business. These majors better fit her future goals, to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to what matters the most to her.
“I want to own my own nonprofit. It’s going to focus on the things that I’m passionate about, human rights and the environment. I love learning about religions and cultures, how people think, and why people are so scared of certain things.”
For now, Alexa is enjoying life as a student and learning new stories from different people. Then it’s moving onto helping and working to make the world around her better, through compassion and understanding.