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Dean’s Award – A&L: Scholar’s preparation and drive shortened her road to graduation

Tiara Alston embraces being a torchbearer for others who may follow her into law, a profession where Black women are underrepresented. “Your ethnicity or gender doesn’t have to be a deterrent to getting to where you want to be,” she said. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

It is unusual for most people to follow through on their eighth-grade career aspirations. For Sacramento State student Tiara Alston, this year’s College of Arts and Letters Dean’s Award winner, it’s as natural as having learned to walk.

“I feel like I’m the type of person who, if I want to do something, I don’t waver from it until I actually do it,” said Alston, an aspiring prosecutor who graduated in December with a bachelor’s in Philosophy. “That’s just me.”

Such drive has been a hallmark of Alston’s time at Sac State. A member of the second cohort of the college’s Four Year Promise program, which facilitates timely graduation through block scheduling, she did one better by graduating in 3½ years.

Name: Tiara Alston 

Hometown: Rancho Cordova 

Degree: BA Philosophy 

Why Sac State? “Originally, I chose it to stay close to my family. But after attending Sac State, I just can’t imagine attending anywhere else. It’s opened my eyes to so many opportunities.” 

Dean Sheree Meyer says: “Tiara exemplifies all the attributes that Sacramento State prizes in our graduates. She is committed to academic excellence, service, and leadership.”

Alston begins law school in the fall at UC Berkeley. In pursuing a legal career, she is following the example of her aunt, a retired civil litigator who teaches at York University in Toronto. But her preparation, diligence and focus on becoming an attorney are a testament to being the child of Air Force veterans. She plans to join the Air Force as an officer after law school.

“While other students were just trying to get situated in college, Tiara was already planning for future semesters and a career in the law,” reads the letter nominating her for the Dean’s Award, presented by the Department of Philosophy and written by Professor Chong Choe-Smith.

Alston was in the Spring 2020 cohort for the Justice Epstein Judicial Internship, administered by Sac State’s Center for California Studies. The program provides student interns, who can earn up to three units upon successful completion, the opportunity to observe court proceedings and engage in “moot court,” which involves researching and writing appellate briefs and arguing a previously litigated case in teams of two. Interns also meet weekly with Sacramento Superior Court judges, court administrators, and others.

COVID-19 forced the program to shift midstream to a virtual format. Despite that the change, Alston said she got a lot out of the experience, crediting professors Choe-Smith and Laurie Kubicek from the Division of Criminal Justice.

“Even though it was all virtual, I really enjoyed it, and I think the professors did a very good job of making it fun and encouraging despite not being in person,” Alston said.

Alston’s commitment to service has been multifaceted. She was vice president and president of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity, and has volunteered with the military support organization Blue Star Moms since grade school and the Land Park Volunteer Corps while at the University. She’s even quick to help friends interested in law school with their applications.

“It’s just my way of giving back,” she said. “I know it’s the cliché thing people say, but I feel very fortunate.”

Alston is fully aware that, as a Black woman in a profession in which women of color account for only 3% of equity partners in firms, she is a torchbearer for others who may follow her. She embraces being such a role model; she just doesn’t want to be the one.

“I just want to be an example of what’s possible,” she said. “Your ethnicity or gender doesn’t have to be a deterrent to getting to where you want to be.”

Her ideal career is to combine health law and criminal law, if possible. There also is the goal of becoming a federal prosecutor.

“I just have to figure out how to do all of it,” she said.

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About Ahmed V. Ortiz

Ahmed V. Ortiz is a writer/editor, working at Sac State since 2011, after a 13-year newspaper career. He is an avid cyclist, enjoys traveling and loves animals and most sports, especially baseball. Ahmed believes in doing no harm and that love is the only way.

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