Alissa VanMeeteren

As a youngster, Alissa VanMeeteren was far from Washington, D.C. But the governmental affairs taking place there were always close to her heart, stirring a love for political process that has led her to near completion of a political science degree at The University of South Dakota.


She’s been putting her skill and governmental affairs expertise to work as USD’s Student Government Association (SGA) President since last February. It wasn’t as if she eyed the position for her four-year stay at the university. The desire to be involved emerged in a very gradual manner.

“In high school I was involved in so many activities, it really kind of burned me out,” Alissa says. “As a freshman here, I was determined not to get involved in very much. I wanted to focus on my studies. That approach lasted about one semester.”

While she assisted in planning USD’s homecoming activities, Dakota Days, Alissa found herself drawn to opportunities to work with USD alumni. Reminiscent sharing that came out of those interactions allowed Alissa to gain a broader perspective on potential experiences available to her at USD.

“I found myself becoming passionate about USD,” Alissa says. “I felt like I was part of the USD family and that made me very happy that I had elected to go to college here. I had opportunity to communicate with USD alumni who were in prominent positions.

Gradually I started hearing comments about using my communication skills as SGA president.”

Alissa took time to consider her own drive to seek the presidency. She knew that, as important as it is to consider the advice of peers and mentors, she had to possess the drive and commitment that role would demand.

“I had to know that I was willing to dedicate the time and energy to stand up and speak for students and all members of the USD family,” Alissa says. “I had a relationship with two USD alumni who provided mentoring for me as I prepared for my SGA campaign. It was very challenging and rewarding. I enjoyed it. Being able to represent students here at the university has been incredibly rewarding and a great learning experience for me.”

Other rewarding opportunities Alissa has enjoyed are her membership in the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority and participating in that group’s community service work. She’s had opportunity to lobby in Washington and network with people across the nation.

“Volunteering at the Writing Center here on campus has been really good for me, too,” Alissa says. “I’ve been able to help students who struggle with communication skills, further developing my own teaching skills.”

As she prepares to receive her bachelor’s degree in political science during USD’s Spring 2013 graduation ceremonies, Alissa reflects on the many opportunities that have already come her way.

“I always knew I wanted a political science degree and that USD was the college for me,” Alissa says. “Many friends were uncertain about their future plans, so I have always felt fortunate to have such a clear idea of my life goals.”

Alissa’s parents, Jeff and Pam, lived outside the city, which sometimes seemed very inconvenient to Alissa and her siblings. However, since her father’s work involved the Lewis & Clark recreation area, Alissa and her family often enjoyed outdoor activities during leisure time.



“Now I see those experiences as a blessing,” Alissa says. “Some of my favorite memories are of fun times we shared outdoors. And I have great memories of times in both middle school and high school. I participated in the YHS theater program and took Advanced Placement classes with some friends. It seems we had a lot of homework and there were many nights we studied at the Fryn’ Pan until late at night, drinking gallons of coffee. Those were good times.”


Because her mother worked in the health care field, Alissa often heard conversations about health laws as she was growing up. She believes she may pursue positions involving health care law and advocacy for patients.

“I would like to go to law school at some point in the future,” Alissa says. “Not right away. I need to take some time to travel and see other parts of the country. But I plan to return to USD and enter law school here.”

As she begins to prepare for transition into the workplace, Alissa says she has a new appreciation for the education foundation she was able to put in place with the help of Yankton High School educators.

“It was there I learned the professional skills I now use daily,” Alissa says. “I think of Cheryl and Terry Winter who coached me in middle school and high school. Bob Beard, Mary Pat Bierle and Ted Powell are others who come to mind. It’s often easy to minimalize the significance of a good teacher, but ultimately we owe the most credit for our accomplishments to those teachers. I encourage students to never take their education for granted.”

VanMeeteren is one of few women implementing the role of USD’s SGA president. While she doesn’t see women as having superior ability to serve in governmental positions, she also doesn’t allow her gender to limit development of life goals.

“I really like the idea of leaving a legacy of attaining something that was never done by a woman in the past,” Alissa says. “It’s important to me to remember that I can serve as a role model to others and inspire them to pursue their dreams.”

Throughout her college career, Alissa has kept the idea of balance in the forefront. It’s a principle that was driven home at an early age by her father.

“If I had a nickel for every time Dad said ‘balance,’ I could probably pay for a semester of college,” Alissa says. “In college it’s really important to balance academics, extracurricular obligations and your social life. If you’re not able to do that, you’re going to have a difficult time.”

The idea of balance came back to Alissa again as she prepared to campaign for election as SGA president.

“Nick Moser advised me before I decided to campaign that I needed to make sure I was okay with the risk of losing the election,” Alissa says. “It takes a special person to put themselves in the shooting range.

People do come at you. If you can cope with losing a risk, you really have nothing to lose.”

In the years ahead, Alissa hopes to emulate the excellent parenting skills she experienced in her home. She has enjoyed the opportunity to “prove” herself and has learned a great deal from all the challenges that opportunity brings.

“One of the great things about college is you get to make your own decisions,” Alissa says. “That’s also one of the biggest challenges. You have to make your own decisions. When you’re deciding which direction to take, you can’t rush it. It might take a year of college before you know for sure what you want to do with your life. It’s okay to make changes. I know now that I will never allow anyone to tell me what to do in terms of education or career choices. Some of my biggest setbacks in college came when I listened to others who thought they knew what was best for me. I’ve learned that failures aren’t fun, but they are the best learning experiences I’ve had.

“I have also learned not to underestimate my abilities,” Alissa adds.

“Don’t let anyone ever tell you a goal isn’t worth striving for or that you’re not capable of achieving it. Let your dreams come from your heart and drive your ambition.”