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Veteran overcomes troubled youth to earn degree

Elijah Allan
August 24, 2012

Standing at the door of the C130 aircraft, Elijah Allan watched the stoplight turn – red, yellow, then, finally, green – signaling it was his turn to jump to the war zone below. When the jumpmaster gave the final go ahead, he knew turning back was not an option. All he could do was leap into the billow of clouds below.

As a member of the 75 Ranger Regimen under Operation Enduring Freedom, Allan made roughly seven airborne jumps, and never overcame the nerves of leaving the comfort of an airplane to literally throw caution to the wind.

He did, however, gain a strong sense of confidence that he lacked growing up on his Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz. This, coupled with the core values of the Army, helped Allan overcome some of the “troubles” he faced in his youth that provoked him to enlist.

Now a student at Arizona State University, his focus has shifted to a conservation biology and ecology major with a graphic information technology certificate. After leaving the military in 2005, hiking and similar outdoor activities became Allan’s form of therapy and stress relief, so selecting the biological sciences degree was “an easy decision.”

Through his degree, Allan seeks to repair ecosystems that have been damaged by human development.

“There is a big problem with species becoming endangered or threatened because of how humans are populating so fast and developing, so what better to do with my life than help this problem?” he said.

Although the pieces of Allan’s life are starting to fall nicely into place, he could have traveled down a much different path.

“A lot of guys on my Navajo reservation will choose to go into the welding profession because it is good money. The only thing is you stay away from your family for long periods of time and it’s just constant work,” he explains.

But with a 16-month-old son at home to worry about, being away from home was the last thing he wanted to do. Allan was also dealing with emotional stress from a strained relationship with his mother and the absence of his father growing up.

So he leaned on his mentor for support, a man named Lorenzo who he says “took me under his wing and became like my adoptive father.” It was Lorenzo and Allan’s brother, Josh, who motivated Allan to earn a degree at ASU.

Through hard work and dedication, the sophomore has overcome his past. Allan is heavily involved with the American Indian Student Support Services office on campus, and attends American Indian Science and Engineering Society meetings when he has time.

And even though he is still pursuing his undergraduate degree, the Sun Devil is already fixated on attending graduate school to complete a master’s degree in environmental or life sciences.