You are here: Home / News / Honors College Alumna Alyson Neel Seeks to Elevate Less Told Stories of Women in Myanmar

Honors College Alumna Alyson Neel Seeks to Elevate Less Told Stories of Women in Myanmar

Alyson Neel has continued to soar to great heights, eight years after we last interviewed her. 

“A lot has happened in the past eight years, most of which I don't think 22-year-old me would've foreseen,” Neel said. 

After graduating with College Honors in Political Communications from LSU, Neel left Baton Rouge for an internship in Istanbul with the intention of staying for a few months and then moving to DC to work on Capitol Hill. Instead, she stayed in Turkey for 2 and a half years, working as a staff reporter for the then-largest English language newspaper and freelance writing for outlets like The Washington Post and Outside magazine, among various other international publications.

“The Ogden Honors College taught me to think critically and be entrepreneurial, and those two things have prepared me to dive right into unknown territories, take risks and do everything I've done thus far in my career - as a journalist in Turkey, gender policy advocate in the United States, and most recently children's book author in Myanmar,” Neel said.

Her work in Istanbul inspired her to take more action in her future endeavors, leading her to advocacy work with some of the most politically active women’s rights advocates in Turkey, and to receiving her master’s degree in public policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

At Princeton, Aly worked directly with administration there as well as with Louisiana Senator Jean Paul “JP” Morrell in Louisiana to help reform how higher education institutions address cases of campus sexual misconduct. She also spent time advising the Office of U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin on the intersection of gender, health, and economic policy. 

Most recently, Neel has been living and working in New York City. She was working for the United Nations Foundation there when she realized that in advising international advocates on how to navigate the UN to advance progress on the national level, she mostly drew on her experience in Turkey. She felt as though she needed more field experience, and that her lack of knowledge in the Asia-Pacific region was a particular professional weakness.  

Neel received a fellowship through the Luce Scholars program that allowed her to move to Yangon, Myanmar for a year to support a local women’s organization there. About adapting to this new environment, Neel said that she got very comfortable being wet, from both the heat and monsoon season, and she spent much time trying to tackle the language in Myanmar.

“Myanmar is an incredible country with a rich, complicated history, and necessarily some of the most resilient people I've met,” Neel said. “Yangon, where I was based, is beautiful and a little rough around the edges, which I loved about it.”

Her work led her to an unexpected extra six-month stay, as she worked to move her book, “Girl Power in Myanmar,” as far along as possible. Neel was inspired by all of the incredible women she was meeting whose stories were not getting told to write this bilingual children’s book celebrating the stories of 14 extraordinary women — with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and occupations — rocking their communities across Myanmar.

“Something my Myanmar colleagues and I bonded over was the lack of books we read growing up about strong female protagonists, full stop,” Neel said. “So, I did some research and I learned that, like many developing countries, there’s an underdevelopment of children’s literature in Myanmar. Of those, I found fewer than five non-fiction books for kids, and none about powerful Myanmar women.”

While female leaders in Myanmar like Aung San Suu Kyi are known widely, there are many other powerful female leaders in Myanmar of which people have never heard. Neel wanted to give recognition to those women in her book, and let them serve as positive role models to the children who would get to read about them. Namely, Neel writes about Zarchi Win, a factory worker with no political connections or experience who managed to successfully lead strikes of several hundred fellow factory workers. 

The first shipment of the book has nearly sold out in the United States; a second, much larger shipment has arrived.

After a year and a half in Myanmar, Neel feels as though she’s barely scratched the surface there, and is excited to have a reason to go back in the future. 

“I often think about where I'd be if I hadn't gone to Istanbul for that internship, which my first Honors College professor and now mentor encouraged me to do. I almost didn't go,” Neel said. “And I now consider it a pivotal part of not just my career, but also my worldview and the person I've become.

To read more about Neel and to follow her journey, go to www.alyneel.com. You can buy or learn more about “Girl Power in Myanmar” at www.girlpowerstories.com.

 

The Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College
The Ogden Honors College, established in 1992, is a vibrant, diverse and prestigious community located at the heart of LSU. The Ogden Honors College provides students with a curriculum of rigorous seminar classes, as well as opportunities for undergraduate research, culminating in the Honors Thesis. Its focus on community service, study abroad, internships and independent research helps today’s high-achieving students become tomorrow’s leaders.

 

The Manship School of Mass Communication

LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication teaches and conducts research at the intersection of media and public affairs. The Manship School ranks “among the strongest collegiate communication programs in the country,” according to an outside accrediting agency. It offers undergraduate degrees in journalism, political communication, digital advertising, and public relations, along with four graduate degree programs: master of mass communication, PhD in media and public affairs, certificate of strategic communication, and dual MMC/law degree.