Students You Should Know: Alyssa Turcsak

At first glance, Alyssa Turcsak seems like a typical college student. The senior leisure, youth and human services (LYHS) major is heavily involved in a variety of on-campus activities and has the outgoing personality you'd expect from a student leader. It's hard to believe this bubbly young woman is a cancer survivor. However, according to Turcsak, going through such a significant experience has helped make her the positive person she is today.

Alyssa Turcsak
Turcsak's work with UNI's Dance Marathon and her outgoing personality have helped her become a great student leader.

Turcsak was just 5 years old when she and her family moved from their hometown of Davenport, Iowa to Peru, Indiana. It was around that time that Turcsak started to feel sick, but her family didn't realize how serious things were until one morning when Turcsak woke up unable to walk. That's when her parents took her to the emergency room and she was diagnosed with leukemia.

After being diagnosed, Turcsak and her family moved back to Davenport to be closer to other family members. She began going through treatments at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital in Iowa City. It was there that she started to feel a sense of hope about her situation.

"The doctors and the child life specialists, they are the people who made my life better," she said. "I'm forever grateful for them. They gave me a second chance at life."

It was also at the children's hospital where she first learned about Dance Marathon, a fundraiser for the Children's Miracle Network, a nonprofit that helps fund the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Students from the University of Iowa's Dance Marathon asked Turcsak to be one of their "miracle children." Students would visit Turcsak and bring her gifts throughout the year. Turcsak and her family were also invited to "the Big Event"—a huge celebration with games and activities for Dance Marathon fundraisers and the miracle families.

"Every year we'd look forward to Dance Marathon more than Christmas," said Turcsak. "It was everything that you could want to have when you're going through [cancer]."

Turcsak enjoyed the experience so much, she wanted to get involved. During her first year at a community college, she participated in the University of Iowa's Dance Marathon. "It was so exhausting but so amazing," she said of the 24-hour event.

She was so inspired that she organized a Dance Marathon event at her community college during her second year. The same year, she participated in the University of Northern Iowa's first-ever Dance Marathon, raising the most money out of all the dancers. Executive board members of UNI Dance Marathon were so impressed with Turcsak's passion that she was offered an executive board position before she was even enrolled at UNI.

While she did look into other schools, it was ultimately the welcoming atmosphere that helped her decide to come to UNI. "This place just feels like home," she said.

Today, Turcsak serves as director of fundraising for UNI Dance Marathon. She is also director of public relations for the Northern Iowa Student Government and student executive director of UNI's Nonprofit Leadership Alliance student association.

Turcsak, who has been in remission since 1999 and hopes to work for Children's Miracle Network someday, is looking to intern with the organization in spring 2015. She credits her work at UNI with getting her closer to that goal. "UNI has helped shape me into the person I'm striving to become," she said. "I'm grateful for the chance that I have to actually give back. I get the chance to give somebody else the chance to find their dream."