He’s still involved in both now, but in a very different sense. As an academic adviser in the Student Athlete Academic Services (SAAS) department, located in the Conibear Shellhouse, Aleaga works with half of the players on the UW football team, the men’s and women’s swimming teams, the gymnastics team and the softball team.
Much like a career adviser in Mary Gates Hall or the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), he helps students choose classes and complete requirements for their degrees. Aleaga also serves as a mentor for student-athletes, as his background in athletics allows him to relate to the students he works with.
“He really cares about this university and education,” said UW cornerback Quinton Richardson. “He’s always stressing about how important school is over football.”
However, Aleaga’s younger days didn’t always suggest a career in academia.
“Ink grew up in a rough part of Hawaii in the housing projects,” said Alejandro Espania, a UW EOP adviser and longtime friend of Aleaga’s. “But he was able to not get wrapped up in some of the things other kids did.”
Instead, Aleaga spent much of his time playing sports and trying to do better in school.
“Growing up, I was pretty much in remedial classes all throughout my childhood education and throughout high school,” Aleaga said.
He faced another trial after graduating, when he didn’t pass the Proposition 48 requirements to play football at the collegiate level.
According to the NCAA Champion Magazine Web site, Proposition 48 then required student-athletes to meet a minimum high-school GPA of 2.00 and score at least 700 (out of 1600) on the SAT test.
Aleaga sat out for a year, studied and got help from a teacher at the private high school he attended in order to meet the requirements to play for the UW.
After playing football for the UW, where he also double-majored in sociology and American Ethnic studies, Aleaga then played in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints for three years before suffering a knee injury. While in New Orleans, he developed relationships with veteran players and coaches who offered much more than sports advice.
“They didn’t just teach football,” Aleaga said. “They taught about life.”
CAREER AND MENTORING
In 2000, Aleaga returned to Seattle and accepted a part-time position with the UW football team as a mentor for incoming Pacific Islander and Polynesian athletes. He then served as an academic coordinator until he was promoted last year to his current role as academic adviser after receiving his master’s in education from the UW.
“I know what these students are going through. I can definitely relate,” Aleaga said. “They have a lot of pressure on them. Imagine being the best from where you came from. Then when you come to the collegiate level, everyone is just as good as you are. Sometimes it can get demoralizing.”
Aleaga said he became a mentor because he always had mentors guiding him through his life, and he believes that mentors are essential for everyone. He personally attributes much of his success to the people who guided him.
One of Aleaga’s most important mentors, Ed Taylor, current vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, has known Aleaga since he was a freshman at the UW.
“What is most impressive about Ink Aleaga is that which is seldom written about and seldom rewarded,” Taylor said. “He is humble, intelligent, humane and is a servant leader. Ink was a brilliant athlete, but his true brilliance can be witnessed in his day-to-day work and interactions.”
Former NFL tight end and student-athlete academic coordinator Rod Jones said that he and Aleaga are like shadows of one another.
“I don’t know how I’d do it without him,” Jones said.
CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Aside from providing assistance to student-athletes, Aleaga is also an active member of the UW community. He is specifically involved in the UW’s efforts to increase the number of Pacific Islander and Polynesian students attending and graduating from the UW.
According to the UW undergraduate admissions Web site, Pacific Islander and Polynesian students make up less than one percent of the UW undergraduate student body.
Culture and expectations are two main reasons that number is so low, Espania said.
“It’s a process that goes all the way back to the family,” he said. “Oftentimes, they are the first person in their family to go to college.”
Another contributing factor to the low percentage, Aleaga said, is that not too many people know about the Pacific Islander presence on campus.
As outreach, Aleaga is facilitating an anthropology class that focuses on leadership for Pacific Islanders. He faced many of these same challenges during school and has used his struggles to help student-athletes have successful collegiate experience.
Aleaga said he wants to remain in athletics in his future endeavors.
“Athletics have given me a foundation,” Aleaga said. “Everything I have learned is from athletics, from life skills to succeeding in college.”
For now, Aleaga is enjoying his position as an academic adviser because he is able to help student-athletes and work closely with them.
Even Aleaga’s family has become involved in his work; his kids even call some of the student-athletes their uncles and aunts.
“We have become like a big family,” Aleaga said. “It’s good to have young children come around and look up to these students.”
Reach contributing writer Jessica Pak at firstname.lastname@example.org.