As co-chair of Michelson Philanthropies—the Los Angeles-based network of private operating foundations founded and co-chaired by her husband, spinal surgeon, inventor, and philanthropist Dr. Gary K. Michelson—Alya devotes her personal and professional experiences toward making the world less unfair for those who need help and inspiration. In 2022, she and Dr. Michelson received the Inner City Law Center’s Humanitarian Award for their philanthropic impact.
Through Michelson Philanthropies, Alya says, “We try to go into areas that nobody else wants to go. We try to lead with the principles that Dr. Michelson made all his devices and discoveries with: Be innovative, don’t be afraid to disrupt things, and be creative.”
Born in Russia, Alya studied music and dance as a child and never lost her passion for the arts. As a young woman, she pursued a career in journalism, earning a degree from Moscow State University, and worked as a correspondent for Russia’s leading network, Ria Novosti, covering several of the biggest stories of the day, including the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000 and the Beslan school siege in 2004.
After graduating with a master’s in economics from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 2008, Alya served as the spokesperson for the vice chairman of a State legislative body in the ruling assembly of Russia. Along the way she met Dr. Michelson, and Alya took a big leap of faith in 2012— she got married, immigrated to the United States, and began pursuing a career in music. “I dropped everything and started my life from scratch,” she says. “I took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”
Alya brings her classical training, life experiences, and talent to all her creative pursuits. After releasing her debut album in February 2019—the modern and experimental Ten Years of Solitude—she began working with producer Bill Schnee, a Grammy award-winning engineer for Steely Dan, on her follow-up. Their first collaboration, released later that year, was the song “American Beauty,” whose accompanying video tells the story of “a strong, talented, unique, gorgeous immigrant woman.” That project started a new chapter in her musical journey, delivering a message that lives deep in her DNA: “Stay true to your roots, be proud of who you are, and be thankful for whatever life brings to you.”
“I took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”
– Alya Michelson
That message has carried over to her newest venture: FirstGen, a storytelling platform that celebrates global citizenship by highlighting how the immigrant experience strengthens the American story. Harkening back to Alya’s journalistic roots, FirstGen celebrates the stories of America’s 23 million immigrant women—famous and unknown, artists and entrepreneurs, innovators and trailblazers. While every immigrant woman’s story is different, they frequently share common experiences of arrival, integration, and renewal.
In a time of climate crisis and civil unrest, embracing global diversity has never been more important. Through FirstGen, Alya creates communal spaces for women to gather in celebration of their diverse experience and shine a light on all the ways immigrant women positively impact our world today.
The project uplifts expatriates by providing hands-on support for those working to achieve their dreams and build a new home. By breaking down barriers, elevating their stories, and spotlighting their contributions to society, FirstGen writes a new story—one that empowers immigrant women and paves the way for the next generation. Through FirstGen, Alya says, “My voice and my passion for supporting women immigrants finally will be brought to life.”
Learn more about FirstGen Initiative – a program of Michelson Philanthropies.