Kiasia Baggenstos

Kiasia Baggenstos. Photo by Paul Neevel.

In June, following her freshman year in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, Portland native Kiasia Baggenstos was named the first-ever winner of the Avel Louise Gordly Scholarship for Oregon Black Women. Avel Gordly is a community activist in Portland and was the first Black woman elected to the Oregon State Senate. Baggenstos got the scholarship when she “rose to the top for her outstanding commitment to positive change as well as for her top academic performance,” according to The Skanner news. Baggenstos’s own childhood was chaotic. “My biological father and mother have been in my life only part-time,” she relates. “I’ve lived in over 20 different homes. Mom is a drug addict and dad had a wife and children in Klamath Falls. They were never together after I was born.” Her twin aunts Shaila and Kaila Mayes, who were just six years older and lived with her grandfather, took over the mother role for Kiasia when they were in middle school and high school. She eventually settled in with her mom’s brother Joshua Baggenstos and his wife Jennifer Bischoff in Portland. “Mom was in prison for identity theft and robbery when I was 11 or 12,” she recalls. “She went in pregnant with twins. All of her baby-daddies were crackheads, except for my dad.” Kiasia was in middle school when she moved in to live with her mom, who was just out of prison and staying with a friend, along with the twins. “Mom was sober for a while,” she says, “But she had a guy friend in prison. When he got out and came over every day, she would doze off on drugs.” When her mom suddenly departed, Kiasia and the twins were left behind. “I dropped out of eighth grade to take care of the twins and the apartment,” she says. Uncle Josh and Aunt Jenny came to the rescue, taking in and adopting the twins. They later adopted three more children abandoned by Kiasia’s mom, and adopted Kiasia herself when she agreed to it at age 17. Although she never formally completed eighth grade, Baggenstos excelled at Parkrose High School, earning a 4.0 grade point average. On Friday, June 23, she was the only undergrad among 12 UO journalism students who flew to Ghana, West Africa, for a six-week internship program. “I’ll be their social media manager,” she explains. “I’ll also be interning in Ghana at the Daily Guide newspaper.”

 Know a Happening Person? Email suggestions to

Comments are closed.