University of Oregon student Annie Neal

Student’s Vibrant Vision for the Future 
Coming into Focus

All the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly for photographer, advertising major

By Ed Dorsch Photo courtesy Annie Neal Illustration by Ella White May 20, 2024

3 min read 

Annie Neal is on the UO dean’s list and a fast track to graduate. For the advertising major and entrepreneurship minor, it’s the latest step on a journey to success—thanks to guidance along the way.

“My support system has been so important,” Neal says. “There was always someone or something reminding me of where I want to be and how I was going to get there.”

She’s followed a path of success, from valedictorian at Portland’s McDaniel High School, to the UO, the School of Journalism and Communication, then photographer, creative director, and content creator.  

Neal already does marketing communications for several organizations. She hopes to ramp up the freelance work as soon as she finds the time and eventually start a creative agency.  

She credits a mosaic of mentors for keeping her on the straight and narrow.  

Those interconnected pieces—her puzzle for success—included dance, her mom, and a nonprofit that helps students traditionally underrepresented in higher education. At the UO, Neal found more support: Teachers, advisers, the Black Alumni Network, and the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence to name a few.  

Along with other Ducks who are soaring high, Annie Neal is featured in Wings of Achievement, a campaign that highlights students supported by UO programs and scholarships on their paths to success


Neal plans to complete her degree just three years after enrolling. All the pieces are in place for commencement next June—no surprise for a student who’s always been future focused.

At age five, Neal started with Portland studio Body & Soul Creative Dance, dedicating hours rehearsing, competing, and eventually teaching younger students. Balancing school with dance taught her responsibility, accountability, and discipline, she says.

Also, in her corner there was always mom: strict but nurturing. A single parent, Amy Mitchell attended night school to become a medical assistant.  

“Mom inspired me. She taught me that I can do whatever I want with my life.”

Annie also credits stepdad Doug Ashley for “intense support” and adds he’s a major Ducks fan.  

In the fifth grade, Neal joined Advancement Via Individual Determination, a student success system developed by a global nonprofit. McDaniel was the first school in Oregon to offer the program. 
The advisers helped Neal apply to more than ten colleges and universities. But she chose the UO because of the financial assistance.  

Neal received diversity excellence and summit scholarships, Arlyn E. Cole and Ann Maxwell scholarships from the School of Journalism and Communication, and other awards.  

She also received the PathwayOregon promise. In addition to guaranteeing tuition is covered, PathwayOregon offers advising, tutoring, and student activities.

“Annie is destined for great things,” says PathwayOregon adviser Melissa Bentley. “She’s had to work hard to get where she is, but she’s also been good at identifying supports, mentors, and communities.” 

Bentley says students like Neal often need the most help with what she calls the hidden curriculum of university life—obstacles such as financial aid forms, academic requirements, and finding resources. Crucial pieces of the puzzle.

During her first year at the UO, Neal also reached out to Ericka Warren, BA ’92 (Asian Studies), MBA ’19, president of the Black Alumni Network. Neal says she’ll never forget her simple, powerful advice: get involved. Neal joined the network and now volunteers on its board. Another crucial piece.

Last summer, for the university’s Portland Internship Experience Neal worked on design, branding, and social media for GladRags. The Portland business sells zero waste wellness products and offered Neal a part-time job after the internship ended. 

“Having that validation, knowing my work is valuable enough to keep me on, made me realize I can do that with other brands,” Neal says. More pieces fitting together.

She also does photography and social media work with Nurturely, a nonprofit committed to perinatal equity. And she’s taking photos for a Eugene yoga studio.  

For Neal, the creative work is inspiring. Helping great organizations makes it even better. 

She hopes to someday help others piece their futures together, drawing from her own experiences. Because crime, gangs, and violence were part of daily life in her neighborhood while growing up, she says, but not her life. 

“My ultimate goal is to support scholarships and provide mentorship to Black creatives,” she says.   

“I know how important both of those were to me, in terms of going to college and being able to fulfill my dreams. I want to provide that space for others when I have the opportunity.”  

Ed Dorsch, BA ’94 (English, sociology), MA ’99 (journalism), is a contributing editor for Oregon Quarterly

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