August STEM Career Profile: Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia




Creating a Cycle of Success
Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia

By: Kibrom Berhane


Neither fame nor fortune could distract Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia from her mission to inspire youth to succeed. With a world-class education, she could have chosen a lucrative job opportunity with a consulting firm or at a private hospital serving wealthy clients. Instead she decided to serve her own community in Portland, Oregon. “My purpose in life is to help others and to serve as a role model for youth,” declared Dr. Moreland-Capuia. Growing up, she received unconditional support from a variety of individuals in her community; everyone from teachers to neighbors encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. Driven by this collective belief in her ability to succeed, Dr. Moreland-Capuia chose to go back to her roots in order to mentor aspiring students and help them make their dreams a reality.

Dr. Moreland-Capuia is a successful and educated African-American woman. She studied at Stanford University and George Washington University Medical Center, two of the finest universities in the world. She currently holds three prominent positions: executive director of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), medical director of the Oregon branch of Volunteers of America, and assistant professor of Public Psychiatry at OHSU. Her commitment to education is attributable to her humble beginnings.

From a young age, Dr. Moreland-Capuia vowed to be successful and rise above her environment. “I did not come from a rich family,” she says, “and there was some level of dysfunctionality in my household.”  There were no college graduates in her family, let alone doctors to whom she could turn to for career advice. She notes that, “Folks would work three or four jobs to make ends meet.” The struggles of her family became the driving force that motivated her to work hard. “[My family] Not having an education convinced me that I needed one. I never wanted to be poor, I wanted power and influence to make my own decisions.” She was like a caged bird flapping its wings relentlessly, and eventually she decided to take charge of her own destiny.

Dr. Moreland-Capuia craved for more than what her environment offered. She looked for resources outside of her family that would broaden her horizons. On weekends, she visited Dr. McKinely Burt, who taught at Portland State University. Dr. Moreland-Capuia remembers, “his house was filled with books and I would help clean it up. The pay or reward was for me to take as many books as I would like.” Another significant inspiration came from a notable African-American neurosurgeon, Dr. Benjamin Carson. “His story was an inspiration to me,” states Dr. Moreland-Capuia, “and I was like, if this man can become the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at the age of thirty-three at John Hopkins, I can surely become a chief medical director.” For Dr. Moreland-Capuia, his story became a source of hope that she too could overcome the limitations of her surroundings. Even to this day, if she finds herself feeling discouraged, she will reread parts of his autobiography, Gifted Hands, from which she continues to draw motivation and a renewed sense of resilience. Without mentors and role models like Dr. Carson and Dr. Burt, Dr. Moreland-Capuia may have never discovered the path to success. Furthermore, she now wants every teenager to reach out to someone who can be a mentor, which will continue the cycle of mentors helping youth to achieve success.

As a result of the many helping hands that touched her life, Dr. Moreland-Capuia now strives to help others achieve their dreams.  One of the most rewarding aspects of her work is assisting youth of color who have undergone traumatic experiences, which she does as part of a program called the Healing Hurt People of Portland.  The program directs its efforts toward minorities, mainly African-American males, and teaches them how to leave behind their troubled past and start a new chapter in their life. Dr. Moreland-Capuia is proud of her work with the program and lists it as one of her most important achievements.

Healing Hurt People of Portland reaches out to youth of color when they are at their most vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. A team of certified staff members from the program conducts interventions in hospital emergency rooms, approaching young men who have been seriously injured, such as being stabbed or shot. This is often referred to as the “golden moment,” the prime opportunity to redirect people’s lives in a positive direction. “The program is about saving lives…It has been amazing and we got a great team of folks who are committed to the cause. We have achieved the results we set out to achieve with the program,” Dr. Moreland-Capuia commented. She mentioned the story of a young man who was trapped by gang life. After talking about his problems and fears with a certified staff member, he received support in the form of mentoring, housing and job training. Throughout this process, he became aware that life can be more than gangs, drugs, and other destructive elements. He realized he was much more capable than he had given himself credit for and is now in college and holds a steady job.

Dr. Moreland-Capuia teaches young people that in order to achieve success, one must be willing to make sacrifices. She adds that, “I made a lot of sacrifices to accomplish professional success. For instance, I did not date in high school and, on numerous occasions, turned down invitations to weddings and birthday parties.” Dr. Moreland-Capuia stated that she even lost friendships as a result of her dedication to her studies. She believes it is critical for people, in particular youth, to understand that without sacrifice, nothing of value can be achieved. For Dr. Moreland-Capuia, obtaining a higher education came at a cost; nevertheless, it has allowed her to fully realize her aspirations. Many teens try to be perfect and as such, they fear failure; however, as Dr. Moreland-Capuia solemnly advises, “If you are afraid to fail, you are not going to succeed.” She adds, “If [plan] A does not work, then try [plan] B; but never give up on your goal.”

What makes Dr. Moreland-Capuia extraordinary is not her professional success, degrees from elite colleges, or her demonstrated ability to rise above any challenge. What makes her an exceptional individual is her inherent belief that anyone can succeed. That being said, she deserves every bit of respect and praise for achieving the level of professional success that she now enjoys. By devoting her time and effort to help youth of color succeed, she is a living embodiment of the idea presented by Martin Luther King Jr. that life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” Dr. Moreland-Capuia encourages every student of color to “find out what makes you tick and make it the basis to set the foundation for you to become successful.” In that way, young individuals are able to create a new cycle of success outside the limits imposed upon them by the environments in which they grow up.


Interview of Dr. Moreland CapuiaKibrom interviewing Dr. Moreland-Capuia


About Kibrom Berhane:
Kibrome is a freshman at Everett Community College and an iUrban Teen former student now intern.