New college proposed for Sheldon Jackson campus

  • By Tom Hesse
  • Sunday, December 20, 2015 10:42pm
  • News

SITKA (AP) — For years Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins has been finding ways to make use of the Sheldon Jackson campus, and his next idea is even more ambitious.

Kreiss-Tomkins is working with dozens of collaborators from Alaska and other states in an effort to bring an accredited college back to the campus.

The proposed Outer Coast College would offer a two-year program on a different model than that of traditional higher education.

Students would make decisions on nearly everything, from meals to classes to faculty. After Sheldon Jackson College closed in 2007 and the campus was turned over to the nonprofit Alaska Arts Southeast, the primary use of the historic campus has been for the summertime Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

“The campus is such a great attribute for Sitka, but it sits empty for most of the academic year,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “I realized that creating a college on a campus would be an incredibly natural fit, and once I had that sort of practical or utilitarian fit, my mind sort of moved into idea connecting world.”

He connects the potential of Sheldon Jackson to a college he heard about while studying at Yale University — Deep Springs College. It’s a two-year institution founded in 1917 and located in the central California desert near the Nevada border.

Kreiss-Tomkins said he met a number of Yale students who had transferred from Deep Springs.

“A handful of Deep Springers would transfer to Yale for their junior and senior year and I got to know some of them and became exclusively impressed with their character and their personality,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

In contrast to typical academic institutions, Deep Springs students are mostly on their own. Students handle admissions, self-governance, faculty hires and their own cooking and cleaning.

“Students effectively run the boarding school,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “I would sort of describe that kind of labor as ownership of the institution and of the education of the students.”

Kreiss-Tomkins said modern education needs more of that approach, and he thinks Sitka can replicate that kind of success.

“The idea is for this to be a sort of academically and intellectually rigorous and alive place,” he said. “You can’t really quantify it but that’s one of Deep Springs’ most obvious and renowned features.”

The idea is still in the incubation stage. Kreiss-Tomkins expects the earliest it could start would be 2017 — a decade after Sheldon Jackson closed and a century after Deep Springs was founded. The student body would be small, “well under 100 students,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

A number of hurdles lie ahead for the project, the largest of which is getting the school accredited. After that’s obtained, students would be eligible to transfer Outer Coast credits to other institutions, the way that Kreiss-Tomkins’ Yale colleagues did.

“Our limiting factor right now is figuring out accreditation,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “We’ve been doggedly learning everything there is about accreditation over the last three months. We’ve definitely made progress so far — we have a pretty respectful understanding of how the process works so far.”

Kreiss-Tomkins is Sitka’s representative in the State House of Representatives, so he’s experienced with red tape. But even he was surprised at what it takes to get a school accredited.

“It’s a complex and difficult regulatory system and I say that as someone who spends a lot of my life regulating regulatory systems,” he said.

The group working with Kreiss-Tomkins includes Sitka residents and Deep Springs alumni. Fine Arts Camp Director Roger Schmidt is also helping. Schmidt manages the campus and has headed up most of the revitalization work.

Some of the people involved have been tied to past ventures such as the Bulldogs on Baranof program and the Sitka Fellows, which bring college and post-college students to Sitka for individual study projects and community service. Parts of those programs, such as revitalizing the SJ Campus or community volunteering, also are included in the Outer Coast vision.

“One of the big aspects of the college is going to be community integration, and this is effectively one of the founding principles of the school, which is Sitka is a magical place and young people have a lot to learn being a part of a place that is this integrated and this amazing,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

Unlike Deep Springs, which has an all-male student body, Outer Coast would have no gender barrier. Aside from mapping out how the college will function, Kreiss-Tomkins and his team are also tracking down donors, through both Alaska and Deep Springs networks.

Kreiss-Tomkins expects those efforts to step up in the coming months with the hope of taking applications in 2016 for the 2017 school year.

More in News

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, spoke to reporters Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, immediately following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address. Members of the Senate Republican leadership said they appreciated the governor’s optimism, and hoped it signaled a better relationship between the administration and the Legislature. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Lawmakers welcome tone change in governor’s address

With caveats on financials, legislators optimistic about working together

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID deaths, hospitalizations climb statewide

The total number of statewide COVID deaths is nearly equivalent to the population of Funny River.

A fisher holds a reel on the Kenai River near Soldotna on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Restrictions on sport fishing announced

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced summer sport fishing regulations Wednesday

Community agencies administer social services to those in need during the Project Homeless Connect event Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘It’s nice to be able to help folks’

Project Homeless Connect offers services, supplies to those experiencing housing instability

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

Most Read