Alumna, professor help Anya Rogala ’16 find her way

by Erin Dahl,

  • Anya Rogala '16
    Anya Rogala '16 helped secure not one, but two, internships with the help of her mentor, anthropology professor Joyce Millen.

Anya Rogala ’16 didn’t know if she was cut out to be a social worker.

She was sensitive and her heart ached for people in pain. She feared absorbing others’ traumas and making them her own.

But she knew she had to try.  

That’s when anthropology professor Joyce Millen came to Rogala’s aid, helping her secure not one, but two, internships. Through the first, Rogala trained under a Willamette alumna at a domestic violence shelter in San Francisco. Through the second, she’s researching a sex education program in Salem.

Now, more than ever, Rogala is convinced she’s on the right track.

“If I notice issues where I can help, I can’t stand idly by,” she says. “I have to get involved.”

Forging Connections

When Rogala enrolled at Willamette, she hoped to forge strong relationships with her professors. She found what she was seeking in Millen. 

Millen sets the bar high for her students, Rogala says. She pushes them to exceed, and she never settles for mediocrity. 

Such commitment inspired Rogala to care about more than her grade — she wanted to earn Millen’s respect.

“She has ideas on the person I can become,” Rogala says, “and I want to show her I can be that person.”

Millen connected Rogala with Jenny McKenzie ’08, a fellow anthropology major and volunteer program coordinator at the Riley Center in San Francisco. McKenzie helped Rogala secure a summer internship at the center, which serves more than 2,000 survivors of domestic violence each year.

“Anya is sharp, focused and socially astute,” Millen says. “Her desire to commit herself to the service of others is authentic. I have no doubt Anya will be a dedicated and outstanding social worker.”

Hands-on Training

At the Riley Center, Rogala completed 40 hours of rigorous support training, shadowed caseworkers and organized children’s activities.

Describing the work as simultaneously draining and joyful, Rogala says she was inspired by McKenzie’s enthusiasm.

“A lot of what Jenny does in her life is what I want to do in mine,” Rogala says. “It showed me what’s possible.”

McKenzie, too, witnessed Rogala’s commitment — particularly to children staying at the emergency shelter. Based on her observations, she believes Rogala’s drive to help others runs deep.

“Anya is deeply kind and very thoughtful,” McKenzie says. “She’s confident but accessible, sensitive and resilient. She’ll be a fantastic advocate in any career she chooses.”

What struck Rogala most was the resilience — and unpredictability — of children.

“We’d be playing, and someone would say, ‘You’re lucky you have a dad,’” Rogala says. “They’d drop these bombs and then move on, like nothing happened. The kids taught me how to see the world through their eyes.”

Long-term Vision

During Rogala’s internship in San Francisco, Millen alerted her to yet another opportunity with the Marion County (Oregon) Health Department.

The department needed an anthropology student to conduct research on the ¡Cuídate! (Take Care of Yourself) program, which aims to help Latino youths develop knowledge, attitudes and skills to reduce their risk for HIV and unplanned pregnancies. 

Rogala secured the internship, and now she’s shadowing and interviewing facilitators to learn about the program’s philosophy. She’s especially interested in understanding how ¡Cuídate! is impacting youths’ lives and self-perceptions.

Rogala expects to continue working with the county until she graduates next spring. Then, with her combined experiences, she hopes to find work with a sexual education program or a domestic violence shelter. Eventually, she plans to return to school to earn her masters.

“If I’m not doing something that’s helping people in some way, I get bored,” she says. “But when I’m helping to solve a problem, I have a lot of passion and energy to give. I have purpose.”