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Alyvia Dunham ‘24: A model student

Alyvia Dunham ‘24, has a passion for helping people in the medical field. She’s had her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license since 2020, the same year she graduated from Wyalusing Valley High School, and is now finishing up her Biology degree at Elmira College with dreams to one day become a physician’s assistant.

While the New Albany, Pennsylvania-native pursues that dream, she is living out another in front of the cameras and on the runways as a model. It’s an experience that has allowed Dunham to venture out of her comfort zone. It has helped her grow personally as she deals with anxiety issues stemming from a lifetime of managing auto-immune diseases, which have led to multiple hospitalizations.

“If I don’t work through my issues, it’s just going to keep setting me back and not allow me to do things and try new things,” she said.

Dunham’s love for modeling has its roots in her early love of photography. That, paired with her enjoyment of taking pictures with her friends ahead of formal dances in high school, made modeling intriguing. However, she lacked the confidence to pursue modeling more seriously until around two years ago when she took a chance on a program offered by Elmira-native and fashion industry professional Jordan Brooks. Since then, she’s been featured in fashion magazines such as 6X, Malvie, and Maxi, and is currently preparing for the LA Fashion Week runway as a brand ambassador for Just BE.72, a clothing line that promotes female empowerment through its brand. She admits that although she’s excited about the opportunity, she’s also nervous – although dealing with nerves before going out on the runway is nothing new.

“I usually get really shaky, really cold right before I’m about to walk,” she explained. “I take some deep breaths. Sometimes my friends and I will dance in the back trying to let out all of that nervous energy. And then I just go.”

Being able to balance modeling with school – and even her side job as a pre-op and recovery floor patient care partner for Guthrie – takes a lot of organization. Dunham focuses on school Monday through Friday and also uses this time to connect with collaborators, including photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and designers, for opportunities to do photoshoots and runways on the weekends. With her schedule, Dunham is grateful that course materials are posted ahead of time in the Canvas system, so she can work ahead when needed. And when it comes to courses she might not be as strong in, Dunham said her teachers and EC’s tutoring support are there to help.

“They’ll meet with me anytime for help, which is really great,” she explained. “I didn’t have that at my old school.”

Her previous university also said she wouldn’t be able to complete her Biology major on time due to the challenges posed by her auto-immune-related health issues. However, that wasn’t the case at EC, where she is now able to finish out her senior year and graduate on time.

When she has to miss a day due to modeling, like the two she will have to miss during LA Fashion Week, Dunham said all she has to do is let her teachers know and they will work with her.

In her youth, because of the time she spent in hospitals, Dunham dreamed of one day becoming a doctor. With her continued health issues, that dream has shifted to becoming a physician’s assistant. Dunham looks forward to continuing her educational journey, prepared not only with the biology and chemistry knowledge, but the critical thinking and communication skills that will provide a strong foundation moving forward.

“I’ve been taking a lot of sociology, psychology, and anthropology. Those courses specifically allowed me to broaden my mind and try to think in a different perspective than black and white because I do struggle with that. … I have trouble seeing the gray areas,” Dunham explained. “Overall, I’m hoping it will make me a well-rounded person and that I will have the ability and diversity to work in any situation with anyone.”

Modeling has also helped to prepare her for the different kinds of people and experiences she will encounter working in healthcare.

“I used to be really shy, really reserved. Modeling allows me to not only communicate with people, but understand different cultures, and how different people act based on culture, religion, and their race because I am immersed in all of that in modeling,” she said. “You learn how to work with others, understand them, and how to just be a good person and go with the flow. I feel like it will help me in the long run with biology, but also with my future careers.”

Even as she continues along in the healthcare field, Dunham plans to continue modeling as long as she can.

“I know I’m not going to be the most famous celebrity out there running those runways, but it’s a nice experience. It’s fun. I’ve made a couple of bucks doing it,” she said. “It might not be enough to pay my bills, but it’s extra money, it’s a side job, and I enjoy it. Some people will go golfing, play tennis, go swimming, but I would rather do that.”

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