Devin Larsen's career path traverses entire Tribal Education program

11.14.2016 Brent Merrill People, Education, Tribal Employees

In the life of Tribal member Devin Larsen, the key to success has been in her attention to details.

And if you’re trying to figure out what launched her success, you also will need to pay attention to the details like when she calmly shares a story of being impaled as a child by a stick after a fall on a bicycle in her hometown of Willamina.

She has no problem telling how “horrified” she was to pick herself up after the downhill fall and find the stick lodged in her stomach on one end and poking out of her stomach on the other end. It’s when she tells you that she didn’t cry that you begin to realize her strength.

And when she tells what it feels like to have been in the Tribe’s educational program from her Head Start/Preschool days all the way through to her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Eastern Oregon University, it’s the details that matter.

“I started down at the preschool when I was 3,” says Larsen. “People were always cheering me on. I remember in the interview saying that I credit the education program out here for a lot of where I ended up.”

Larsen, who graduated in June, began working for the Education Department she has been a part of most of her life as a lead tutor/adviser in Youth Education on Oct. 12.

“I just happened to be on the interview panel and I was just very impressed,” says Education Department Manager Leslie Riggs. “She is so polished and sharp. She is a great success story.”

Larsen, who is the daughter of Tribal member Jeff Larsen and Hollie Mercier and the granddaughter of the late Mike Larsen and Kathi Paterson and Paul Justen and Darcy Davis, finished her college degree while working full-time for Tribal Court as a records clerk.

She was the Tribal Court’s records clerk from December 2014 until September of this year.

“It was a really good job and I learned a lot of new skills and got along with everybody great,” says Devin of the court job that she started when she was 20. “I had been working at the preschool for five years since the age of 15. I just wanted a little different experience to really see what I wanted to do. I definitely got a new perspective on the Tribe, things that I had never experienced before. I really enjoyed it.”

Devin says that after she graduated from college she knew she wanted to return her career path toward education and wanted to eventually become a college adviser or work in the Tribe’s employment program.

“It’s really working out well for me,” says Devin. “Part of the reason why I want to become an adviser is because a lot of people don’t realize how many opportunities we have out here. I try and tell people even if it’s not your thing (going to college) give it a chance.”

Devin says that she received help to get her education and that those same programs are currently available to Tribal members who want to attend school in hopes of a better future.  

Devin received student rental assistance through the Housing Department and took advantage of the Tribe’s educational leave policy, which allowed her to spend as many as four hours a week on her studies while getting paid for an entire work week.

“There are so many things that people don’t even know about that are out here,” says Devin. “There are so many resources out here so when people don’t take advantage of the educational opportunities I can’t believe it. Since I’ve been a little girl people have been telling me the Tribe is going to help you do this and you’re going to achieve it so I really thank the Tribe a lot for where I’m at.”

Working full time in Tribal Court and attending school full time was difficult, she says, but she knew she had the support around her to make it.

Devin’s mother, Hollie, who works as an administrative assistant in the Member Services Department, is married to Tribal Elder John Mercier. Together they formed a support network around Devin while she threw herself at her degree by taking online courses.

Devin says it was that strong support she received from her family and boyfriend that gave her the confidence to take as many as 19 credit hours a term while working a full-time job.

“I have always been proud of Devin and her desire to challenge herself academically,” says Hollie.

Hollie says Devin has always been inquisitive and focused on learning since she was a toddler.

“I can remember when she was barely 3 years old she would meet every guest at our front door with a cardboard map of the United States and eagerly announce ‘Ask me, ask me!’ which meant she wanted them to immediately quiz her about where each state was located,” remembers Hollie. “It was very important to her that everyone test her knowledge at least once before we moved on to any other conversation.”

John Mercier, who was following Devin when she took her fall on the bike, says he witnessed it firsthand while Larsen was growing up.

“She has always been one to be inquisitive,” says John. “When we first got a house together I would be reading a book and she would be asking me what my book was about. So she would sit and act like she was reading next to me.”

John, who is the Tribe’s acting Tribal Employment Rights Office director, says he has been happy to watch Devin grow up and that he is very proud of her and her accomplishments in her educational, career and personal life – pointing out that Larsen recently became a homeowner.

“She did well all through school,” says John. “We wanted her to know that those opportunities were there. That is one of the benefits of the Tribe being restored is giving these opportunities. She has done fantastic.”

The respect John has for his stepdaughter is mirrored in the way she feels about him.

“He has always been there,” says Devin. “I really appreciate him. He is a great influence. It was nice to have that relationship with him when I was younger and even now.”

Devin says she receives love and support from her mother as well and that all through college it was her mother who was her cheerleader.

“My mom has always been so proud of me,” says Devin, who was accepted at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University out of high school, but who chose Chemeketa Community College and eventually Eastern Oregon’s program because it allowed her to work full time for the Tribe. “It definitely helped having them support me.”

Devin says her late grandfather Mike Larsen was also a big support for her as a teenager and then in her first year of college. Larsen, who was a respected and beloved Tribal Elder in Grand Ronde, walked on in January 2013.

“I sure miss him,” says Devin. “Toward high school we got really close. My grandpa Mike always told me how proud of me he was. He was so supportive. Even now I know he would be totally bragging about it, which is so funny because that is just how he is. I miss him a lot, but I know that he knew I was on the right path.”

With her new job, the 22 year-old has had a chance to reflect on the last seven years of working for the Tribe and all of the experiences that have come with being part of the Tribal family.

“I want to mention how much I’ve enjoyed being able to work for the Tribe these last seven years,” says Devin. “Each position has been a stepping stone toward my goals and most importantly has given me the opportunity to become better acquainted with the membership and our community.”

Devin says she hopes other young people in the Tribe will follow her path and use her experiences as an example that they also can achieve great things if they want.

“One of my favorite things about our Tribe is that we are continuously providing opportunities for our youth to grow and succeed, and my hope is that I can make a difference in some of the lives of our future generations as so many of my family members and fellow employees have done for me,” says Devin. “I can’t thank the Tribe enough. It’s pretty amazing. I’m really blessed.”