Earlier this month, I stood with many other Alaskans and guests from around the world to witness the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. This was my first year attending the start in person, and as I stood there, I witnessed just how much the Last Great Race reflects the Alaska spirit that is rooted so deeply within everyone who calls this state home. As I cheered mushers and their teams alongside the trail a little way from the start, I could see the collective ambition and determination as they prepare for the journey ahead. As a new Alaskan, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am to witness a similar Alaska spirit every day on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.
Since I accepted the chancellor position last fall at Alaska’s largest university in its most diverse and populous city, I’ve learned a lot about what is important to our state and how our university is constantly evolving to be responsive to community needs.
The student body at UAA is growing. Applications and enrollment are up, and our students are achieving national recognition for their research, academics and athletics. Three years ago, the school increased investment in student recruitment efforts, specifically in our presence in local communities. We hosted a hands-on Academic Preview Day last fall that brought in more than 900 participants from Eielson to Kenai. We’ve achieved significant increases from each Anchorage and Mat-Su high school, and more than half of the students applying from these schools have high school GPAs of 3.5 or higher. We are proud to have a school that high-achieving students from Alaska choose to attend.
When students complete their education in Alaska, they are more likely to stay in Alaska. We know that we are grooming the future leaders of our state and we take that responsibility seriously. This means listening to the needs of our community so that we are providing the programs both our students are interested in and that will benefit our community later. For example, by revamping the application process for nursing programs, enrollment is up by 35 percent for our associate degree in nursing. Our focus on Alaska’s health care needs is also evident in our initial accreditation for a new Surgical Technology program by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. We’re planning an open house for students, staff, faculty, and community partners to learn more about this program later this month.
We rely on state funding to assist us in providing this support in our community, and we strive to be dependable stewards of those resources.
There are a lot of unanswered questions right now. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed budget cuts that I believe will have an impact on every Alaskan in some way. Now, our legislators are responsible for difficult, yet important decisions as they define the budget. Once the final budget is released, the UA Board of Regents will also have its own big decisions to make.
I know people are concerned and they have questions about what the future of the University of Alaska system looks like. I also have questions, but for one Saturday, witnessing the Iditarod ceremonial start, I was thankful to let all the noise fade away and enjoy a day with fellow Alaskans; all of us from different backgrounds, with different ideologies and beliefs, coming together to celebrate the Alaska spirit that ties us all together.
Cathy Sandeen has been the chancellor of University of Alaska Anchorage since September 2018.
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