In our Storyteller profile series, we highlight the dreams, journeys and achievements of Doyon Foundation students, alumni and supporters. In this episode of Storyteller, we speak with Doyon Foundation alumna Angelica Baalam. Angelica, of Birch Creek, graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Governors University in spring 2022. She currently works in the urgent care department at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks. You can watch or listen to Angelica’s full profile, or read a transcript, with minor edits for clarity.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Hello and thank you for joining us. In this episode of Storyteller, we’re here with Angelica Baalam, a Doyon Foundation alumna. Angelica graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Governors University in spring 2022. Thank you so much, Angelica, for joining us. I’ll start with the first question. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, family, etc.
ANGELICA BAALAM: My name’s Angelica Baalam, but everyone calls me Angel. My mom is Jackie Baalam, my dad is Oscar James. My grandparents are the late Randall Baalam, the late Rose Baalam, the late Winston James and Mary James. My family comes from Birch Creek; we’re Gwitchin Athabascan. That’s where I grew up, until I was a teenager. Then I’ve lived in Fairbanks, I lived in Noorvik, that’s where my sister lives, and then I went to Mt. Edgecombe High School in Sitka. I’m an RN; I’ve been an RN since 2016. I’ve worked at the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC). Then I moved back to Fairbanks and right now I’m with Tanana Chiefs Conference.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Awesome, thank you for that. Next question, and we talked a little bit about it, but if you want to add anything else, feel free to. Tell me a little bit about your educational journey. What school did you graduate from, what degree did you receive and when did you graduate?
ANGELICA BAALAM: After I finished school at Mt. Edgecombe, I entered the University of Alaska Anchorage and went through the pre-nursing program. I finished all my pre-nursing classes with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Then I got accepted into nursing school in Fairbanks, but I wasn’t ready, so I continued with the Mat-Su College in Palmer. I went to nursing school there with seven other people, and that took two years. It was good for me because if I was home, in Fairbanks, I think I would have felt obligated to hang out with friends and whatnot. So I was homesick a little bit, but it really made me study because that’s all you have to do. It really prioritized my relationships and who I wanted to cherish and spend that time with. So it was good, it worked out. I graduated in December 2016, got my associate in nursing, and then started work a month later at ANMC. And then in 2020, when COVID was going on, I started school again with Western Governors University. I had the time and I was able to do that at home. It took me about a year and a half and I graduated this year in February. And that was different because I was working and I had my son and it had new difficulties that came along with it.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Congratulations on your graduation, that’s always exciting.
ANGELICA BAALAM: Thank you.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Why did you choose this field to study?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I was always really interested in healthcare, and then in eighth grade somebody asked me what I wanted to be and I said, “A nurse.” I kind of stuck with it and I found new reasons along the way to add to why I wanted to be a nurse. At first I thought, “Oh, it’s a good job, I like healthcare,” and then I was a CNA and I like working with the elderly. Later on I said, “Well, I really want to work for Alaska Native and Native American people,” and then when I worked at ANMC, I was like, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.” I went back home to Fairbanks, started working at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center. It really reflects the community and people are so thankful to see another Alaska Native when they come in, and just having that communication, I know what they’re talking about. So I just keep adding reasons like all the time.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: That’s important to have. What are you doing now and what do you hope to accomplish through your career and work?
ANGELICA BAALAM: Right now I’m working at Chief Andrew Isaac in the urgent care department, which is a very busy department; we get a lot of sick people. It’s only temporary; my primary job is working with our detox center here in Fairbanks. It’s currently closed; it recently transferred to TCC. I’m going to be the lead RN there. So whenever we have enough staff and that’s situated, I’ll transfer back over there. We help people in the community and all over Alaska who have alcohol use disorder, opiate use disorder, methamphetamine use disorder. It also helps with behavioral health problems and mental health problems, helping them get into treatment, making sure they have a safe place to withdraw. If you have alcohol use disorder and if you’ve had seizures before, that’s really dangerous, so we make sure they have a safe place to stay while they’re withdrawing safely. And then just helping them with any discharge plans that they want to do and get in treatment. I just want to do that the best I can and hopefully get enough staff so we can make sure our beds are always full consistently and just doing everything safely and for everyone in the community, not only just Alaska Native.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: That’s awesome. How did your education help you get where you are today?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I not only had education with the school system, like high school and college, I also had education through just listening to Elders, listening to my parents, my grandparents. I’ve lived in Birch Creek, I’ve lived in Fairbanks, I’ve lived in Noorvik, Sitka, Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla. So I’ve also had that experience of living with different cultures. Working at ANMC, I’ve had experience in learning from people who remembered the flood in the 60s in Anchorage, or the earthquake and then multiple floodings throughout the years along the Yukon River. So I’ve met probably all the different cultures in Alaska. So not only education-wise but culturally, it’s important to know about the different language and cultures, communication styles, what they believe in. I felt like that was really important to know and just to really listen and ask questions. I want to be a person that just respects that and say, “You’re who you are and I want to help you in the healthcare system and hopefully I can help.”
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: That experience is invaluable. What was the biggest challenge you faced in your educational journey and how did you overcome it?
ANGELICA BAALAM: In my early education, middle school, elementary, middle school, high school, it was really hard because I felt like it’s really colonized and westernized education. It was hard for me because it was like, “You have to do this and this.” And, growing up, I was taught like you need to listen. So I would listen. But then, in college, it kind of got easier. When I was living in Palmer, I really made myself learn how to study and it was really important to know what I need to know. I still use that listening skill; it’s really important to listen to your patients and all these different cultures and know that sometimes people have a background of mental illness and that you really have to listen in a different way, look at the whole picture and not just one angle.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Do you expect to continue your education in the future? If so, what are your plans?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I really want to get a master’s in nursing, but not right now. I feel like I won’t absorb as much because, right now, I’m going to be learning in my new role as the lead RN over at detox and just helping my coworkers, helping the patients. Then maybe in five years, I think I’ll be really open to learning and asking questions and wanting to know things in a different role. So I’m not really ready to go to school yet, but I know I probably will be in the future.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: That’s awesome. Apart from school and work, what other activities or community involvement do you enjoy?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I like being involved with my Tribe. I served a couple of terms of being a council member with them. I’ve been involved with the Native Birth Workers; they’re located in Anchorage. I’ve done a doula training with them and connected with them. I’m going to go to the White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington, D.C. One person from every Tribe in the U.S. is attending a two-day meeting. Subsistence-wise, I love going fishing and moose hunting every year. I go to Birch Creek and go moose hunting, cranberry picking. I spend a lot of time with my family. I try not to be too busy. I like to do stuff outside as best as I can and stay up to date with my career.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: That’s awesome; self-care is important and all those activities are very, very important. What role does your culture or Native language play in your life?
ANGELICA BAALAM: It plays a big role in my life. I took a couple of classes with UAF on our Gwich’in language. Last year, my son was in the language nest daycare and they only spoke Gwich’in with him. Unfortunately, they had to close with low staffing, but there were four kids there that attended that school. I still try to be active in my language and refresh my memory and learn new things and ask our Elders how to say certain things, so it’s really important to me. I named my son Ch’ahnjit, which means it sparkles, it’s shiny. My nephew is named Neetan, which means lightning. So it plays a role in my life.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Awesome, I hope you keep it up.
ANGELICA BAALAM: Thank you.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: What kind of support did you receive from Doyon Foundation and how did it help you as a student?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I received support financially; I received scholarships that really helped. During nursing school, I didn’t have to work full time. I usually worked seasonal or part-time, and that really helped me because of the amount of studying I had to do. I felt really fortunate because it’s really stressful to go to school full time and go to work full time as a young adult, and I got to really focus on my studies.
I also found it really supportive because Doyon Foundation would come and visit UAA campus. I thought that was so awesome to have that person-to-person conversation and having them help with my application and just sending email reminders and now they do text reminders. Someone’s always available to talk when I call Doyon Foundation, so that’s really awesome. I always enjoyed those activities, I think it’s like the fall semester kickoff. So that’s awesome. It’s a really good program.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: We’re getting ready to do more in-person activities, so we’re restarting that. Prior to COVID, we had a graduation ceremony, we had student dinners, informational sessions, dropping finals week snacks at UAA and UAF.
ANGELICA BAALAM: I remember that.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: So we’re gearing up for restarting all that stuff in person. We’re excited.
ANGELICA BAALAM: Awesome.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for students today?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I would just say apply for scholarships. Sometimes it’s kind of daunting because you look at one and it asks you for 10 different things, and you’re like, “Whatever, I’m not going to do that.” But you’d be surprised how many people don’t apply and you probably have a chance to get that scholarship. You just need to print off the requirements for, like, three or five scholarships, see what you need, put that in a binder, get your copy of your Tribal card, BIA card, make an essay. If you live in Alaska, if you’re Alaska Native, it’s so easy to make an essay. Not everyone lives in a village, not everyone is raised by their grandparent, raised around a different language. You could really make an essay and just make yourself stand out. Make sure somebody looks at the essay first. And then just print off everything that they ask for and just send it in. Just apply for scholarships because they really help, especially if you’re going out of state. Tuition is high nowadays so I would just recommend to apply for scholarships.
Make sure you have mental health put first, too. It’s stressful being in school, being away from family. Make sure you have a good support system and you’re sleeping enough. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and you’re doing it for a good reason. Education is really important.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: It is and that’s all great advice. Thank you for that. Is there anything else you’d like to mention today?
ANGELICA BAALAM: I just want to say thank you to Doyon Foundation for supporting me and getting me to where I am. Hopefully I’ll get to use Doyon Foundation again in the future when I’m ready to get my master’s.
And if there’s anyone who’s in pre-nursing or a nursing student that wants to reach out, you’re welcome to. I’m always happy to help nursing students. Good luck and thank you.
JENNIFER MAYO-SHANNON: Thank you so much, Angelica.
ANGELICA BAALAM: Thank you for having me.
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