Making it work
Author: Kurt Bedell
Posted: February 7, 2019

Online student Lisa Allred’s resourceful approach to life is helping her reach her goals.

PORTLAND STATE students are known for going to great lengths to get an education, but Lisa Allred may have set a new bar. 

Currently a master’s student in PSU’s School of Social Work, Allred did some of her undergraduate work in San Diego, and made it affordable by moving to Tijuana, Mexico, and commuting by motorcycle on and off for about 10 years.

“I couldn’t afford to live in San Diego as a student,” says Allred. “For $300 a month I had an ocean view apartment in Mexico that would have cost me thousands in Southern California. It was the only way to be a college student without going into incredible debt.”

The motorcycle was an integral part of her resourceful plan.

“Crossing the border in a car takes at least three hours post 9-11,” says Allred. “On a motorcycle, I could zip right to the front of the line and cross in five to 10 minutes. It was the only way to make the commute possible.”

Now she’s commuting in another way. Allred is in the final year of her three-year online degree at Portland State, which means she reads articles, watches videos and participates in online discussions with her professors and classmates entirely from her Medford home.

THIS FOCUSED and resourceful approach to life has gotten Allred, 36, through years of ups and downs and closer to her dream of becoming a hospice social worker—a role in which she’ll bring care and compassion to people nearing the end of their lives.

She finds the online format perfect for her lifestyle and much less time-intensive and intimidating than she first thought it might be. “My biggest fear going into this program was the technology component,” says Allred. “But I’ve found the online format of this program to be intuitive and very easy to use for someone like me who didn’t have the most extensive technology background starting out.”

She credits her mentor at Southern Oregon University, where she wrapped up her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with her decision to study social work at Portland State. “She and a friend who I had lunch with many years ago highly recommended I consider social work ahead of all of the human services professions,” she says. “I remember my friend saying very clearly to me—social work grads get all the jobs.’ I was sold.”

While working on her master’s, Allred held internships in which she worked with individuals of all ages, from little kids in therapy to seniors looking for ways to battle depression and isolation. Social work students are required to complete 1,000 internship hours as part of their degree. Allred was also selected for a competitive, optional program focused on preparing her to help individuals often unreached by the health care system because of social, economic and cultural barriers.

ALLRED’S LIFE experiences shaped her decision to work in a helping profession like social work. For example, she had a brush with alcoholism in her teens, eventually going into rehab and doing years of recovery work. Sober for 18 years and counting, she credits her partner, Katie, plus friends, family and mentors with the support she needs to stay strong.

“Getting sober has shown me that I’m capable of much more than I ever would have anticipated and that life is much bigger than I ever imagined,” she says. “I know now that I’m in control of the perceptions in my life and that sometimes I need others to help me see things in a different way. Perspective is everything.”

Allred was also shaped by how she witnessed the death of her stepmom and the deteriorating health of her grandmother.

Her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's disease for years before she passed away. “I felt lucky that I was able to spend time talking with her about her experiences growing up in the 1920s and ‘30s,” says Allred. “Digging way back into her past and combining those stories with music she recognized really seemed to trigger the strongest memories for her.” 

While other family members seemed uneasy with her grandmother’s deterioration, Allred remembers feeling particularly calm and collected through the whole experience. “It was then I began to realize that hospice might be the work for me. I seemed to have the temperament for it.”

Years later, Allred’s stepmother faced a much faster death than her grandmother, and again Allred was able to help her in those final days. She also served as a support to her father and observed how effectively the hospice social worker listened to and cared for her dad. 

“She really saw my dad, talked about what to expect next and teared up a couple of times with him, all the while staying professional without going down the spiral staircase,” she remembers. “It showed me how valuable and powerful the work of a skilled hospice social worker can be for everyone when bearing witness to a loved one’s final hours.”

Today, Allred balances the sometimes heavy weight of classes and an intense internship with her passion for playing music. She’s played guitar since she was eight years old and has participated in open mic nights in clubs in every city she’s lived in as an adult. “I like the energy of the crowd and the nervous thrill I feel performing in front of total strangers,” she says. “It’s something completely different for me.”

It’s a thrill that comes from courage and perseverance—attributes Allred has built up through a lifetime and will carry with her into the future.

Kurt Bedell is a staff member in the PSU Office of University Communications.

Caption: Lisa Allred takes online social work classes from her home in Medford surrounded by her pugs. Photo by Jim Craven.