White House invites Alaskan to State of Union

Lydia Doza nearly ignored her White House invitation (Photo: William Lauth, Sealaska)
Lydia Doza nearly ignored her White House invitation (Photo: William Lauth, Sealaska)

When President Obama will give his final State of the Union address tomorrow night in Congress, a 24-year-old Alaska Native woman named Lydia Doza will be among the guests sitting in the First Lady’s gallery.

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But Doza. a software engineering student at Oregon Tech, nearly passed up the invitation. She says she got a call she didn’t answer because she was in class.

“And then I received a text message saying it was someone from the White House and they left me a return phone number,” she recalls. “And I almost didn’t call back because I thought it was a scam of some sort.”

Doza says she remained doubtful, but did return the call.

“Even if it was fake I could always, like hang up,” she reasoned.

But it really was the White House calling, with an invitation to come to Washington for the State of the Union. Doza, a graduate of Dimond High in Anchorage, was recognized for her work with Native American youth.

“I encourage students to go into higher education, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields,” she explained.

Doza is a Sealaska shareholder, of Tsimshian, Haida and Inupiat heritage. Last year she was a Sealaska intern in Juneau, working on the corporation’s website security.

It was robots that first attracted her to engineering — specifically, her work on her high school robotics team. But she says a lot of Native kids don’t see scientists and engineers who look like them.

“I think that’s a big problem. Because I know I’m not the only Native American in a STEM field. But we’re just not very visible,” she says.

Doza says if children don’t have family members or know other adults in that line of work, it may not occur to them to pursue it for themselves.

“That’s kind of why I want to be a spokesperson, and why I work with the community so much, just to be a presence in their lives,” she says.

Doza will be among two dozen presidential guests at the speech. They include a Syrian refugee, a female graduate of Army Ranger school, a 12-year-old hunger activist, and the CEO of Microsoft.