Nekoma Burcham has spent her career helping people navigate complicated support systems to make sure that they can thrive. For 11 years, she worked to serve the unique needs of the student veteran population at IUPUI, ensuring that they got the most out of their educational experience. When she recognized a need for deeper support than the university was able to offer within existing structures, she spearheaded the creation of the Office for Veterans and Military Personnel, and helped grow it into a strong resource for support and advocacy tailored specifically to student veterans and their families.
While working full time, Nekoma completed her bachelor's degree in Public Affairs - Sustainable Management & Policy from the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI and a certificate in Green Building Technologies from the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology. A proud Hoosier, a lifelong learner, a change agent, and a passionate advocate, Nekoma is eager to take the next step in using her talents and past experience to launch the NEXT Farm Initiative - enabling young women returning from prison to give back rather than go back.
Alena is no stranger to a challenge. In college, she was drawn to her degree program by the idea of wicked problems - intersectional problems that have multiple root causes, are hard to describe, and can’t be solved by standard linear methods. This is what brought her to the incredible opportunity the NEXT Initiative presents: an explicit focus on an under-served population experiencing the effects of not just one but many wicked problems - poverty, food insecurity, violence. Before receiving the NEXT Initiative Fellowship Prize, Alena worked in a diverse progression of occupations: two years event setup and management, five years landscaping, one year interning at a farm, three years as a language arts teacher at a small school focused on gifted students, one year as a grant writer (winning more than half a million dollars in federal Brownfields Grants for Indiana communities), and one year as a field scientist (completing environmental assessments for many of those same communities). She has a passion for startups and community organizing, and is deeply involved as an organizer in her local religious community. Alena received her bachelor’s degree in sustainable management and policy from the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis).