ALUM | DeAndra McLaughlin, 2011

Alum DeAndra

It’s no surprise that DeAndra McLaughlin ‘11 developed strong bonds with her English teachers during her time as a student at Red Cloud. As an exceptional writer with an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a masters degree from South Dakota State University, today she serves as Red Cloud’s Digital Marketing Specialist, helping to share the stories of our extraordinary students and staff with audiences far and wide. And her journey is far from complete: next fall, DeAndra plans to begin work toward her doctorate in Indigneous Public Health, to help improve care and health outcomes in communities across the reservation. She spoke with us about what she’s learned so far, and where her dreams will take her next.

Tell us about your years at Red Cloud. What memories stand out?

I attended Red Cloud K-12 and graduated in 2011. Red Cloud has been a part of my life since I was 4 years old and remains a part on a daily basis. My years in school here were memorable, fluid, and successful. My main memory of Red Cloud is my best friend, whom I met when we were in 6th grade. She became family and our lives are forever connected. We remain best friends of 16 years and both currently work right here at Red Cloud!

One of my favorite teachers was Anne Grass, who taught English my sophomore year. She is the one who gave me my nickname that everyone still calls me by to this day. She was a kind human being who always had an ear to listen and advice to help. She always made it a point to come visit me when I was in college in California - just to check up on me and make sure I was doing well. She was a very real person who made me feel good about myself and realize my potential. She actually just stopped by campus this past summer and we had a brief chance to catch up and it was like no time had passed.

Another favorite teacher of mine taught AP English my senior year, and he was very supportive of me and always pushed me to do better. He also helped me realize my potential and to never doubt myself. He encouraged me to believe in myself and in my abilities to excel. He taught me to be confident in my intelligence and to be proud of myself and my accomplishments.  He also came to visit me a couple of times when I was in college as well.

How did Red Cloud prepare you for college and beyond?

When I think about how Red Cloud prepared me for college, I would say that I was academically prepared as much as I could be back then. As I’ve learned throughout my educational journey, you can be prepared with basic academic skills but you’re constantly learning new skills and continuously growing intellectually at each level - high school, college, post-graduate, and in everyday life. And as I went through undergraduate school, I simply built upon the skills I already had, finessed them, and learned some new ones. During my graduate school years, I learned even more skills, but came to the realization that I have an aptitude for writing, and that I always did, and it just took time to hone those skills.

How did you choose Stanford?

I actually never heard about Stanford prior until someone suggested I apply. I was applying to at least 10 schools and figured it couldn’t hurt to apply for another one. I was looking forward to hearing from a different school and learned I didn’t get in - I was pretty disappointed. Amidst my funk, I also read my acceptance email from Stanford but I wasn’t particularly “mentally present” when I read the email. I went to tell my English teacher that I didn’t get into my school of choice but I was accepted to Stanford. Safe to say my teacher lost his mind as he started yelling and jumping around the classroom. He was super excited for me and told me that Stanford was way better and that I should be proud. He was just stunned - not in that he thought I wouldn’t get in but because Stanford was this amazing school, and a huge opportunity.


I was shocked at how proud and happy he was for me so I thought okay - well I trust him, so I better look into Stanford more. So I researched it, applied for their Admit Day, and flew to California for a weekend to check out the school. I immediately fell in love with the campus and of course, with California - it was a dream to even be able to go to California. It seemed like a place I could thrive, and so I decided that I would go to school at Stanford.


How was the transition to college life?

My transition to college life started off slow but it wasn’t anything terrible. I was fairly used to diversity, so that wasn’t really a shock to me when I arrived in California. “Culture shock” was a literal thing for me because I was in a completely new environment that was huge, very populated, and fast paced with a new “college” culture. Everything was the complete opposite of my small town life. Despite that, I adapted well my freshman year - mostly because I’ve always been independent and open-minded. Of course, being away from my family and friends left me lonely at times, and I didn’t know anyone at Stanford when I first got there. I kept to myself most of the year but I did make friends with my roommate and my dorm mates.


All in all, my first year in college was good. I made good grades and had some fun experiences, but I wasn’t that social. My sophomore year was when I actually bloomed and became more social. One of my close friends from home, who was a grade below me in school, got accepted into Stanford and so we had each other from then on, which made college a lot more fun and comfortable. I became involved in the Native community on campus and joined organizations, and the best of all - I developed lifelong friendships that I cherish deeply.


You came back to work at Red Cloud! What are you doing now?

I became the Digital Marketing Specialist in June of 2019, but I have been working in the Advancement Department since September 2016. I was an Advancement Associate for the office, then helped to support our work with Red Cloud’s Leadership Society, and then finally became Digital Marketing Specialist. Also, when I was back for Christmas and summer breaks during my college years, I worked as an intern for Community Relations. In total I’ve been working at Red Cloud here and there since 2012.



You also earned your Master's degree!

I obtained my Master’s of Public Health from South Dakota State University and graduated in May 2019. I graduated from Stanford in June 2016 and was only out of school for 6 months before I applied for the MPH through SDSU. I had been thinking about what field I wanted to go into for my masters, and psychology was a huge contender because I‘ve always been naturally drawn to that field and my BA is in psychology. As a Gates Scholar, there are only certain fields that the scholarship will pay for when it comes to graduate school, and unfortunately psychology isn’t one of them. But when my best friend asked why I hadn’t thought about public health, it just clicked in me - why haven’t I thought about Public Health before?

I researched more about the Public Health field and found that it is super complementary to various other fields, such as psychology and education. And the public health field is hugely lacking here on the reservation and needs more public health professionals. I applied, was accepted, and began my program in January 2017. And it was a great choice! I fell in love with public health. I really enjoyed the work, the content, and the breadth of skills and knowledge I learned. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of stress, blood, and tears. Working full time and being a student full time was extremely exhausting and stressful, but I accomplished it and I’m happy for it.

What's next for you?

This question comes at a good time because I actually just decided on what’s next for me! Naturally, after receiving my MPH everyone was asking the question of when I would be getting my PhD, if I was going to get a PhD, and what it would be in. And for a time, I didn’t want to pursue a PhD, especially after barely coming out of my master’s program alive. But I always knew deep down I would go for a doctorate, because Gates does pay for one’s education up to a PhD, and I am beyond grateful that I even have the chance.

I was considering a doctorate in public health of course, but I’m still really interested in pursuing the education route. So I’ve been considering a doctorate in either education or in public health, and have now decided on a PhD in Public Health. But what’s great about it is that it will be a PhD in Indigenous Health! This is a new program that was created by Dr. Donald Warne and colleagues through the University of North Dakota. They developed a Master’s of Indigenous Health program that actually launched this Fall 2019, and the PhD will launch Fall 2020. I plan to apply as soon as the application becomes available, and (fingers crossed) if I get accepted, I will begin my PhD journey in Fall 2020!


What advice would you give to current Red Cloud students and/or other alumni currently thinking about their next steps?

I would urge them to take their time. Do not rush anything, do not think you are behind, do not think you have to do more than you are able to give, do not think you aren’t doing enough or are doing too little. Do not question yourself, your skills, your ability, or your worth. Do what is comfortable for you. Do what you truly want to do. Whatever your passion is, set your goals and strive for them. And it’s okay if things veer off the road and halt your progress - that’s just life. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do with your life yet. I think everybody should know that, no matter what you do, how many jobs you work, how many times you switch your major, or whatever - you’re still constantly picking up skills and knowledge and expanding your repertoire.

There’s no right or wrong for where you choose to go to school, if you decide to take a year off, or go straight into the workforce or military - as long as you are doing what you feel is right, then it’s right. And experiencing all of these different things actually helps you realize what you don’t want to do, what you don’t like, and what you really love.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Be patient and trust yourself. Nobody knows what you want but you. Nobody can tell you what you need to do. Only you can. Only you are in charge of you. Believe in yourself and take care of yourself.




Photos © Red Cloud Indian School 


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