The curtains opened, and lights shone down on her as she took center stage in the theater. The audience awaited her performance. She pictured herself doing this for the rest of her life.
Allison Belnap always imagined acting as her lifelong career, but she says divine inspiration changed her course. She is now the new assistant dean of Career Services at the J. Reuben Clark Law School.
“I just had a very strong spiritual confirmation that coming to law school was the right way for me to go,” Belnap said.
Before law school was ever in her sights, Belnap traveled from her small hometown of Vail, Colorado, at the age of 16 to move to Rexburg, Idaho, and attend Ricks College. She later transferred to Provo to finish her bachelor’s degree at BYU.
“I studied music, I played the bassoon, and I was also in theater,” Belnap said. She performed in the orchestra and did an ensemble, but the reason she came to BYU was to complete her degree in acting.
Belnap didn’t consider getting married and starting a family an option. But things changed when she met the right person.
“I had always grown up thinking I was going to be an actor,” Belnap said. “I had no plans to be married or have children. I felt like if I saw children, they would be my sister’s children, and I would spoil them and send them home. But then I met my husband, and I liked him a lot, so we got married, and eventually we thought, ‘Oh, it’s time to start a family.’”
Belnap thought she planned everything perfectly, getting pregnant toward the end of her schooling so she could have the baby after graduation. However, things didn’t go as planned.
“I lost that baby on April 1, which was ironic because it was April Fools’ Day,” Belnap said. “It was a little over halfway through my pregnancy, so we could tell it was a little boy, which we have all girls now. We have five girls, so he was our only boy.”
This happened at the end of her final semester, leaving her no time to wrap up classes and graduate on time.
“I should have graduated, but there were problems with the pregnancy. … I got everything done except one acting class that I couldn’t get the scene work done for,” Belnap said. “That class was only offered once a year, so I had to wait a whole year to get a scene partner to do the two scenes I had left to do for that class and graduated a year later than I would have.”
Belnap had a couple of children a few years later and returned to BYU to complete her master’s degree in children’s theater. She taught theater for 10 years, including part of the time she was in law school.
“This was a very hard decision for her,” said her husband, Dean. “I think she thought there was no way this would work; she put it off for two years. I trusted her completely and knew that she wanted to go to law school because she felt it was right.”
Belnap hadn’t planned on attending law school, but she had a strong spiritual confirmation that it was the right path for her to take.
“Once I felt spiritually impressed to take this road, I had no clue what was in store for me,” Belnap said. “No one in my family had gone to law school.”
After graduating from the law school in 2011, Belnap went to work as an associate attorney for Fillmore Spencer law firm in Provo and then worked for the firm of Holland & Hart in Salt Lake City. She loved working at the law firms but was always open to the idea of coming back and working at BYU one day. Her husband has worked at BYU for almost 20 years, so they both felt like a part of the BYU community.
Belnap then received the assistant dean of Career Services position but felt she was under-qualified for the job, and some questioned her qualifications.
“One of my first days here, one of the women I work with pretty much said, ‘You’re not qualified for this job,’ and I said, ‘You’re right, I’m probably not qualified on paper for this job.’ But I think we’ve been able to build a good office culture, and I think things have been going well.”
Belnap might not have felt qualified for the position, but other people saw something special in her. Many people knew her from when she was a student at the law school and knew what she was capable of.
“It hasn’t been very long since she graduated, so she’s very tuned into the student perspective,” said Wendy Archibald, assistant dean of student and internal relations at the J. Reuben Clark Law School. “She’s older and has more life experience than some of the students, but she was a student here just within the last few years.”
Belnap has become the perfect fit since she started in January 2014, said James Rasband, dean of the law school.
“Allison has been a wonderful addition to the law school administration,” Rasband said. “She is full of energy and insight and committed to helping the students fulfill their professional aspirations. I very much enjoy working with her.”
Balancing a career and family isn’t always easy. Belnap’s husband, mother and children have been supportive.
“I don’t look down on individuals’ choice; we all have a life path,” Belnap said. “But I think there is sometimes a tendency to think that if we’re doing family things, we can’t do our own education. And if we’re doing education, we aren’t going to be able to balance a family.”
Belnap’s message to women is that they can have both; they can develop themselves through education and also have a family.
“I’m not saying you can have it all,” she said. “You can’t be a stay-at-home mom and do all the things that come with being a stay-at-home mom and have a full-time career and do all the things that come with a full-time career. But you can have healthy and happy children and healthy and happy relationships. I think the key to that is making sure that you’re following what you feel is really spiritually directed for you. I think the Lord has more in store for us than we sometimes anticipate, and sometimes we’ll cut ourselves off from those possibilities just by thinking inside of a box.”