Clarkson Opportunities
Outweigh the Odds

Alexis Alexander ’23

The Clarkson Fund » Alexis Alexander ’23

I knew I wanted to go to college from a young age. I grew up in an impoverished Black community in Washington, D.C., where it was instilled in us to go to college, get an education and make a better life for ourselves.

With this goal in mind, I pushed and challenged myself to do things I never thought possible. In high school, I studied abroad in Peru on a scholarship and did a lot of volunteer work. I even traveled across the U.S. to national parks and continued to volunteer on scholarships.

However, life got rocky around my junior year of high school. My mom got injured at work and ultimately lost all of her income. Then my grandmother passed away. Soon after, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and my sister with multiple sclerosis. The medical bills started piling up, and we became homeless. These compounding factors challenged my determination and focus. But I couldn’t allow myself to make excuses. Pursuing a college degree was not up for debate.

When applying to colleges, the constant worry on my mind was the financial aspect. I didn’t have the luxury of choosing a school based on location, thinking about my social life or considering any of the other usual factors that drive students toward a particular school. On the plus side, my hard work had paid off; getting into schools wasn’t a problem. But it was very disheartening when the financial aid packages started coming in. Even with financial aid and scholarships, I’d have to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

Everything changed when I received Clarkson’s financial aid package. It instantaneously reignited the spark that I had lost. Thanks to our generous donors, the extra financial support I received from the Clarkson Fund has greatly impacted me. For some, a few thousand dollars might not seem like a lot. But for my family, who lives paycheck to paycheck, it is the difference between whether or not we get to keep a roof over our heads.

Clarkson has been the best decision for me. I love being here, and it’s become my second home. Clarkson has provided me with many opportunities and a comfortable environment to grow professionally and academically. I’m now a senior majoring in chemical engineering. I don’t think I would have been so bold to work toward that degree if it weren’t for Clarkson giving me the gift of choice — the ability to choose what I want for my future rather than basing my education and decisions around finances. At Clarkson, opportunities outweigh the odds. I’m so grateful and I look forward to being the first in my family to earn a college degree.

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Alexis Alexander ’23

Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Major: Chemical Engineering

Clarkson Experience Highlights:

I was a teaching assistant my sophomore year and enjoyed being in a leadership role that helped further establish my Clarkson family of peers and professors. I am also a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers.


My initial interest in chemical engineering stemmed from growing up during a water crisis in Washington, D.C. Our drinking water was heavily contaminated with lead due to the corrosion of the pipes that transported our water from surrounding waterways and other harmful chemicals. As part of the McNair Scholars Program with CUPO, I developed a sensor to detect per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. I synthesized different types of materials based on carbon nitride and characterized their properties using spectroscopy. I then used electrochemistry to test the sensor response to varying types and concentrations of PFAS compounds.

Future Aspirations:

Now that I’m a senior, I am figuring out my next steps. I had planned on attending grad school, but I may shift and go into industry first to gain more experience. I’m interested in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries — anything that deals with bio-processing, specifically downstream processing and purification for medicines. I’m also interested in enzyme engineering or synthesizing biomaterials for cell therapies.