Last weekend, more than 1,200 students graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage. As they walked across the stage and toward their futures at Sunday’s commencement ceremony, I watched them join the ranks of more than 53,000 UAA alumni, most of whom live and work in the state. I am confident the class of 2019 will, like those who came before them, make a difference not only in Alaska’s economy, but also in its communities.
UAA alumni are leaders and business owners; they are our dental hygienists, nurses, journalists, police officers, K-12 superintendents, university professors, petroleum engineers, welders, diesel mechanics, pilots and earthquake engineers. They are also our neighbors, nonprofit board members, community council leaders, legislators, and friends. They are being recognized nationally and internationally. Recently, Samantha Mack was named UAA’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar, Eagle River teacher Valerie Baalerud won the Milken Educator Award, and alumna Megan Green received a Fulbright Scholarship.
Local employers recognize the value of UAA-educated graduates. Companies like R&M Consultants, an Alaska-based consulting firm with a workforce comprised of 30% UAA graduates, understand how important it is to provide by-Alaska, for-Alaska services. R&M employs nearly 100 people in Anchorage and Fairbanks to provide civil, structural, waterfront, and geotechnical engineering — UAA graduates’ depth of knowledge in engineering for cold weather is invaluable.
Nearly every industry in the state benefits from the students that walk across the UAA stage. The Anchorage School District, the State of Alaska, GCI, BP, ConocoPhillips, Southcentral Foundation, Providence Health and Services, Alaska Airlines, and, of course, UAA, are among the employers hiring the highest numbers of UAA graduates.
Here at UAA we work to recognize the successes and contributions of our alumni. Since 2010, UAA has honored nearly 30 Alumni of Distinction in our community. The Alumni of Distinction Awards recognize and celebrate those who have made important contributions in their communities and whose actions honor the legacy of excellence at UAA.
Leaders like Sophie Minich, CIRI president and CEO, Tim Gravel, Kaladi Brothers Coffee CEO, Jennifer Thompson, Thompson & Co. PR president and CEO, Carol Comeau, former superintendent of the Anchorage School District, Roald Helgesen, CEO of the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium, and Ted Trueblood, a longtime Alaskan and civil engineer, are just a few of the many great individuals who have earned this prestigious award.
As it happens, nominations are now open for the 2019 UAA Alumni of Distinction Awards. Anyone in the community can nominate UAA alumni for these distinguished awards. Do you know someone who deserves to be recognized for the work they do in their community?
UAA also continues to grow and deepen our community connections through our honorary degree and meritorious service award program. At commencement last weekend we recognized four community members for their significant and lasting contributions to the university and the state of Alaska — Bede Trantina, Sheila Toomay, Barbara Hood and Dr. Thomas Nighswander. These outstanding individuals join the growing and strong network of UAA alumni and friends who make a difference in our community and state everyday.
UAA’s commitment to and partnership with Anchorage and extended Southcentral communities is deep and permanent. As this new class enters the workforce, we are excited to see where they will end up, and how they will change their communities, and our state, for the better. A new generation of leaders is emerging and together our community and our university will grow. In a few years we might see some of the 2019 class back on campus for their own Alumni of Achievement awards.
I am proud to be part of an institution that produces so many of Alaska’s leaders and change-makers. If you know someone deserving of the Alumni of Achievement Award, contact the Office of Alumni Relations or visit www.uaa.alaska.edu to learn more about the nomination process. Nominations are due by 5 p.m. on Monday, June 17.
Megan Olson is vice chancellor at University of Alaska Anchorage.
• Megan Olson is the Vice Chancellor of University of Alaska Anchorage.