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Overcoming Adversity: Alexa Nichols

August 19, 2009

Though a high school accident has severely limited her physical dexterity, ASU junior Alexa Nichols is not letting it hinder her upward mobility.

A biology major from San Angelo and member of the ASU Honors Program, Nichols spent six weeks this summer as an intern in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas.  Funded by the Alvin and Patricia New Honors Program Enhancement Fund, the internship in the office of a politician may seem a bit odd for a science major, but not to Nichols.

“I have always been interested in politics, ever since the 2000 election,” Nichols said.  “It was such a great opportunity to get to go to Washington.  I think I want to eventually work for a think tank or research group that handles bio-ethical issues, so that will combine both science and politics.”

Alexa NicholsDuring her internship, Nichols handled many routine administrative duties, including distributing newspapers, logging and answering constituent letters, researching constituent questions and attending intern lectures.  But, it wasn’t all office work.

“I got to go to committee hearings if one of the staffers was busy or if I saw one that was interesting,” Nichols said.  “I also got to give Capitol tours, which was lots of fun.  It was a great way to work in a professional environment and still get to do fun things around Washington.  It wasn’t just sitting in the office all day.”

Getting involved in the political process also gave Nichols a new respect for congressional leaders in general and Rep. Conaway in particular.

“He is so smart,” Nichols said.  “I guess I knew they did a lot of stuff, but I never realized just how much they have going on.  He always seemed to know about everything that was going on at the time.  I was really, really impressed.”

Confined to a wheelchair and with only limited use of her hands since a high school diving accident, Nichols admits to being intimidated prior to arriving in Washington.  But, the internship experience helped her personally as much as it enhanced her resumé.

“At first I was really nervous, having to ask for help, but all the staffers made it really comfortable for me,” Nichols said.  “So, now I know that when I go into the real job world, I won’t be afraid to ask for help.  I have a lot more self-confidence about going to work after college.”

Ironically, being in a wheelchair actually worked to Nichols’ advantage during a trip to the White House.  Because she had to take the elevator, she got to see the kitchen and several other rooms not usually part of regular White House tours.  She calls it the highlight of her time in Washington.

Now, Nichols is ready to get back to work at ASU, where she plans to complete her incredible story of overcoming adversity to not only attend college, but to excel in her studies and move forward toward a fulfilling career.  She is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2011.