by Kylei Cornelison, Wildcats Media
Alena Noakes, a Grant Parish native, was all smiles as she walked across the stage at Louisiana Christian University’s Commencement Exercises earlier this month. She, however, had completed all her requirements to graduate and with honors by December 2021. She was the 2018 recipient of the Smith Scholarship.
At Louisiana Christian University, an annual competition is held to determine the winner of the Smith Scholarship, a full ride to LCU for four years—the only full-ride scholarship offered by the University. One student is chosen from an interview, essay and resume-based competition.
Alena finished in three and a half. By her last semester, she was already working as a multimedia journalist at KALB-TV.
Alena grew up in Grant Parish and attended her junior and senior years of high school at Louisiana School for Math, Science, and The Arts (LSMSA) in Natchitoches. Growing up, Alena was always the academic. She was never really interested in playing sports, despite coming from a baseball family where athleticism was highly encouraged (but never enforced). She was one to always have her nose in a book or to spend her free time studying.
“[I was] just a little nerd, honestly,” Alena said.
Alena explored her academic potential at LSMSA. Her experience there influenced her greatly and allowed her to hone her talents and scholastic passions as she decided her next step. Alena says that LSMSA and the teachers she had helped inform her about her education and shape the way she thinks even years later as a college graduate.
“It’s kind of helped … how I approach my studies, how I approach conversation with my instructors and it helped me to kind of break out of my shell and build friendships with people,” she said.
Alena also says that LSMSA is where she got her footing in and gained her love for journalism when she worked for the school newspaper (The Renaissance). She had previously been interested in English and politics but refined her interests and found a new niche.
Alena graduated as a Convergence Media: Journalism major at LCU. She has experience in writing, broadcast and photojournalism. She won awards for her journalistic work for the University both regionally and nationally, including:
Southeast Journalism Conference (SEJC): 2nd place in Best Opinion/Editorial Writer; 2nd place in Best of the South in Opinion/Editorial; 2nd place in Best of the South in TV News; 8th place in Best College Journalist.
Society of Professional Journalist (SPJ): 1st place in General News Photography; 1st place in
National Federation of Press Women communication contest: 1st place in Photography; 2nd place in Collegiate Opinion/Editorial.
Alena started working as a member of the production team at KALB in Alexandria, Louisiana in December of 2020 while she was still a student at LCU. She continued her work there after graduating a year later in 2021, now as a full-time member of the staff where works as a reporter.
She says that she loved having the opportunity to do what she loves to do now, even while she was still a student.
While Alena has many talents in the realm of journalism, her true passion is photography. She was donned on campus during her time at LCU as “The Girl with the Camera.”
She runs her own small photography business (@alenanoakesphotagraphy on Instagram), where she posts her shots from sporting events, personal shoots and much more.
Alena says her dream job would be to take pictures for a professional sports team.
“For me, becoming a journalist has been a long-time dream, and sports photography is an extension of that,” she says. “It’s my favorite avenue of photojournalism, and it feels as natural to me as reporting on state politics.”
Although she loves her job as a reporter, Alena says that she also takes every chance she can to continue developing her skills in sports photography.
“You can have more than one dream for more than one time in your life,” she says.
Alena’s brother and fellow LCU graduate, Clayton Noakes, says that she has always been a hardworking and selfless person.
“In her career goals or even in her school goals, she strives to be the best that she can, and it
shows in every aspect of her life,” he says.
Dr. Elizabeth Clarke, chair of the Division of Media, Communications and Theatre at LCU, says that Alena was a jewel of a student to have in the classroom in her time as an LCU student.
“She is one of the most talented journalism students I have ever taught — she is good at everything — writing, print and broadcast, photography,” she said.
With all of these accomplishments under her belt, Alena says that winning the Smith Scholarship put everything into perspective.
“It’s the ultimate achievement of my academic career,” she says.
She describes the title of Smith Scholar as the culmination of all her efforts and previous achievements in her educational career.
Alena’s advice to future Smith Scholar competitors is to just be yourself.
“They just want to see you,” Alena said.
She says to not worry too much about your resume, but rather put stock into yourself and be confident in who you are.
“I was involved in hardly any clubs in high school … I didn’t have a 4.0 GPA when I applied … [and] I didn’t do really any extracurriculars,” she said.
She explains that students in academics often put the most stress on having achievements and being the best, but at the end of the day, the people who apply themselves will succeed, no matter how “under-qualified” they might feel.
As Alena moves into the world after college, she says that she is looking forward to developing her craft daily and experiencing new opportunities as she takes on her career.
“I look forward to a future of enjoying where I am planted, while also being willing and excited to take on new challenges and experiences when they present themselves,” she says. “Not to sound too cheesy, but like they say, ‘Face your fears and expand your horizons.’”