Kiana McAllister Goes from UVU to Oxford

Kiana McAllister Goes from UVU to Oxford

CCS Alum Tells Her Story Mixing School, Family, and Her Dreams

By Eliza Jackson

New Beginnings for Me and UVU

I grew up the oldest of three in Lindon, Utah. I'm the only girl in my family, so I was the princess! I originally started university at BYU-Hawaii and had a great experience there. But financially, it was a bit too much living in such an expensive place [on top of] tuition costs. I came back to Utah and ended up meeting my husband. We both started attending UVU in 2010 when UVU [had just] become a university. I grew up knowing [UVU] as UVSC, so it was cool to be here at the beginning of the university.

[My husband and I] started our family young. I have three kids, and I gave birth to them and raised them while at UVU. So, it took me a while to finish my undergraduate degree.

Mixing School and Family

Overall, I attended UVU pretty consistently while adjusting to [motherhood]. [My schedule] looked different from semester to semester. I took a few semesters off when my babies were due [because] I didn't want that to interfere with finals or midterms. There were times I struggled a lot with postpartum depression, so I had to withdraw from some classes or minimize my workload. Sometimes, it was difficult to come back because I didn't want to leave my babies or I was breastfeeding. But I've always loved school and coming to UVU. Even if it was just one class a semester, it was nice to engage my mind and be surrounded by peers and colleagues who were trying to get by and better themselves like I was.

Kiana McAllister

Being a nontraditional student was really difficult, but through every phase of my family, I’ve had nothing but support. I took advantage of financial aid, the daycare (UVU Wee Care Center), and [I had] wonderful professors. While I was newly pregnant, I had professors who would allow me to bring snacks into class or would set a trash can next to my desk if I had morning sickness. I had professors that [said] if a babysitter fell through, I could bring my kid to class. They were just so supportive.

It wasn't just professors but also other students who were so helpful. I was never the only nontraditional student in a class. I never really felt out of place. There was always someone dealing with the same circumstances as me. There's a really diverse student body here at UVU. On a personal level, talking to students from different backgrounds made me more empathetic. But it also enhanced my understanding and knowledge on an academic level.

Discovering The Quill Project

The UVU Center for Constitutional Studies and the University of Oxford started a partnership, I believe, back in 2016. [It was] a joint research project called The Quill Project that was started by renowned historian Dr. Nicholas Cole at Oxford’s Pembroke College.

The Quill Project is kind of at the forefront of digital humanities. [They] take primary resources and records that drafted important documents like the Constitution of the United States or the Utah State Constitution and create a visual model of how those proceedings worked. [They] essentially give you the first draft of a document and then show the changes that happened to make the final draft. Who proposed this? Which amendments passed? Which failed, [and] why? It engages you with history and personifies the people who are drafting these documents that impact us on a daily basis.

Kiana McAllister

I found The Quill Project back in 2018, and it really interested me right from the get-go. I always wanted to educate people, especially about the U.S. government or the Constitution. But I knew that teaching wasn't really my forte. So, I was looking for an opportunity to engage and educate the public about these important American documents. Professor Andrew Bibby let me know that the UVU Center for Constitutional Studies was doing its first study abroad program at Oxford based in Pembroke College. He helped me get all the materials together [to apply], wrote me a great letter of recommendation, and I got into the study abroad program.

Rubbing Shoulders With the Greats

Doing the study abroad program with a family came with a plethora of difficulties. Luckily, I had a lot of support from family that could help with childcare. But ultimately, you have to stop and think about what's worth leaving your family for. I know that's not within everyone's capabilities, but if you can make it happen, use every resource. Use neighbors [and] family. It's okay to ask for help. Doing that study abroad was rigorous and difficult. But it was absolutely worth it.

The program in Oxford was two weeks, so we spent a lot of time in lectures with some of our directors [from] the UVU Center for Constitutional Studies. They incorporated The Quill Project into our studies, so I got to use it from a user perspective as a student. But we also got a lot of one-on-one time with Dr. Cole, which was invaluable. It was great to have his guidance. He pushed us to think outside of the American myths we construct around the founding.

Kiana McAllister

As soon as I ended my program, I wanted to be part of [The Quill Project]. So, I interviewed at the Center for Constitutional Studies as an Eric Zachary Wood assistant and began working for The Quill Project on the Utah Constitution. About a year later, I became the team lead for the project that would model the Reconstruction Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. I was able to present my research at a conference at Oxford, where I had regular interactions with some of the world's [most] renowned historians on Reconstruction and American history. It looks a little different than being a teacher, but I love that I can educate people in this unique way.

Achieving My Impossible

I graduated in May of 2020. This may seem cliche, but graduation was a huge moment for me. We had a drive-thru graduation, but it was incredible to have my kids there to see me. They saw me do homework and did theirs alongside me. But for them to see me graduate and accomplish something was huge. Especially [for] my daughter. She knows it's hard work because she [saw] mom do hard things. But she thinks that she can do it all, and I love that.

I always wanted to attend graduate school. But honestly, I felt like the odds were stacked against me. I was a nontraditional student, it took me a decade to finish my undergrad, and I have a family to consider. There was a lot of uncertainty and a lack of confidence. But being here at UVU, I found that there were so many opportunities to engage and prove myself. The motto here is engaged learning. That was definitely the case for me. The confidence that my mentors had in me to take on my independent research and grapple with difficult historical questions gave me the confidence to know that graduate school is absolutely within my capabilities.

I would have never in a million years thought I was capable [of going] to Oxford. I didn't even know if I would finish my undergrad! But last year, I decided to just go for it. I applied for some major programs at Princeton, Notre Dame, and Oxford, and I got into Oxford. I'm completing my master's degree, and after that, I hope to continue my academic career with a doctorate. I would love to come back to a place like UVU to teach and continue doing research. There are so many hidden gems at UVU. I want to help facilitate opportunities that professors opened up to me.

Kiana McAllister

UVU Is a Place for Self-Discovery

The biggest regret I had at UVU was not speaking up and taking ownership of my education earlier. It took a while because I had that lack of confidence. I didn't think I was worthy to speak up and ask for opportunities. [But] the second I spoke up and let people know I had ambitions, [I had] instantaneous support.

Making education part of my life has looked different at every phase. When I [took] some semesters off, I tried to keep my mind engaged, continue reading, and continue talking about the things I was interested in, even if it was just to neighbors or family members. Keeping that part of me alive through any phase I was going through has led to my success.

It's okay if your journey doesn't look normal. In fact, it's that much cooler if your journey doesn't look normal. Don't let that deter you from doing amazing things, and be yourself. UVU is a great place to be yourself.

Kiana McAllister