Alumni Spotlight: Alana Harris HD ’15

Alana Harris teaching her students

A lawyer turned passionate teacher, Alana Harris sat down with us to talk about her Human Ecology experience and career-related experiences. Alana graduated in 2015 as a Human Development major with a minor in Portuguese and Brazilian studies. Her older sister also studied  Human Development, and she has always loved psychology and working with kids. Alana’s Cornell experience consisted of amazing professors like Dr. Moss in Psychology 101, Dr. Gilovich, and Dr. Harry Segal. Throughout her years, she was able to build a strong network of hardworking people and friends on a beautiful campus. When asked about how Human Ecology impacted the way she works and interacts with others, she mentioned the interdisciplinary approach. 

Being able to weave in different policy issues into her psychology and child development classes helped lead to discovery of concepts of social justice and impacts how she works as a teacher today. 

In the past decade, Harris has traveled to Brazil and worked as a volunteer English teacher, attended UVA Law School, danced throughout college as President of Shadows Dance Troupe, and is now reconnecting with her love for working with children. As a very social justice-oriented person, she went into law school with a desire to combine her psychology background with equality, but found that the day-to-day of law wasn’t the right fit. She needed to be social while also making an impact. 

So, when she visited Uncommon Schools in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Alana felt something stick with her and trusted her gut. Still working at a big law firm, she quit after finding out the school had an opening. And now, she fights for these kids who had no one fighting for them before, everyday. 

Although she has been so fulfilled in her new work, this shift from law to teaching was painful for Alana. She explained how she came  to terms with the idea that working as a lawyer wasn’t the place for her but there were conflicts and expectations stopping her from stepping away. She wanted to push gender boundaries and attend law school, but found such a strong pull towards teaching, despite its more female roots. 

When her tour of Uncommon Schools was coming to an end on that first day, she saw the quote “If not now, then when? If not you, then who?” After taking the risk and making the career switch, Alana found passion once again. She pushes the importance of mentorship throughout her entire career as a student, lawyer, and teacher. With two older sisters and inspirational educators surrounding her at work, she’s been able to move through different phases of life with great resources and confidence. She has learned so much about being proactive. She suggests to all Human Ecology students today to seek people out and advocate for themselves, continuing to grow a strong network built on community and trust.