Did You Know?

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Learn More About UA

This is a new series we are calling Did You Know.” The project is designed to highlight university excellence and collaboration through storytelling and data. Our goal is to keep university stakeholders informed about the university's key role in changing lives and shaping the state's economy. These vignettes and personal stories illustrate the university's many successes and the vital and profound impact it has on graduates and all Alaskans.





Did you know that the Alaska Small Business Development Center at UAA has assisted nearly 1,900 Alaska businesses and provided training for another 6,200 in 125 communities across the state in the last fiscal year? Since July, SBDC-mentored businesses have raised $52 million in new capital –– an SBDC record.

The center has launched more than 160 new businesses, and supported more than 7,100 jobs in Alaska, and a recent SBDC poll found that more than 20 percent of these businesses are run by UA graduates –– exemplifying UA’s critical contributions to Alaska’s business world and success. 

The Alaska SBDC is part of UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute and provides advising opportunities and tools to help entrepreneurs start and grow their small businesses and contribute to the Alaska economy. Advisors work with businesses on a variety of topics including management, marketing, sales, finance accounting and innovation. 



Did you know that UAF’s nonprofit Nanook Innovation Corporation has helped to commercialize 40 faculty or student inventions since its founding in 2012? One success is a technology developed by UAF to solve problems with sewage management but later pivoted to help mitigate growing problems presented by a family of contaminants called PFAS affecting groundwater and soil across the state and other areas of the country. In recent years, PFAS remediation has become a multi-billion dollar emerging market. PFAS contamination has been discovered at 120 sites across the state, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. This technology is licensed to Aquagga, an Alaska-based company. This equipment and other UAF inventions meet industry and health needs across Alaska, positioning UA innovation as a critical player in Alaskan economic and scientific development. 

Nanook Innovation Corporation is part of UAF’s Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization, directed by Mark Billingsley. 

“Research, as you know, is a big part of what we do as a university,” Billingsley said, explaining that this research can bring about myriad positive social and economic impacts. “These impacts might occur through multiple channels, but one of the most direct channels is commercialization: using the market to bring research outputs to the general public for their benefit.”

Nanook Innovation Corp. and OIPC promote and support inventions like the Aquagga’s PFAS mitigation tech generated from research conducted at UAF and work to get technology invented by students and scholars into the hands of businesses across the state.


UAS Mining

Did you know the University of Alaska Southeast has a Center for Mine Training that partners with local mines to provide students experience in the field as they complete their program? For the last nine years, the UAS Center for Mine Training has partnered with Hecla Greens Creek and Coeur Alaska to provide entry level training in Diesel Mechanics. This unique collaboration provides UAS students hands-on experience in mining while also giving students a head start in finding jobs in the industry after graduation. The pathway has graduated more than 50 students since the partnership began. 

At UAS, students interested in the mining industry can receive tuition assistance and earn an associate degree or certification in Diesel Mechanics thanks to a scholarship to promote its Pathway to Mining Careers partnership. This scholarship opportunity encourages students to enter the mining field after graduation. High school students are encouraged to enroll in UAS' Introduction to Mining Occupations and Operations course, offered each spring online statewide and in-person in Juneau.

Casey Bain works at the Center for Mine Training coordinating programs and recruiting new students. 

“My mission is to get out there and get high school seniors and others interested and involved in mining,” Bain said. “To know these jobs are here, and to know what kind of training opportunities they need to become a successful employee in the industry.”


Desiré Shepler UAA COH

Did you know that a University of Alaska Anchorage College of Health alum is now the president and CEO of Alaska Family Services, one of the leading social services organizations for Alaskan families in the Greater Anchorage area and Mat-Su region. Desiré Shepler received her Master of Public Health from UAA in 2010 and has gone on to lead multiple innovative organizations that deliver essential social services to Alaskans — more important than ever during the pandemic.

Before joining Alaska Family Services –– which provides 23 different programs dedicated to helping families in the areas of behavioral health, domestic violence, nutrition and family support –– Shepler led Raising Our Children with Kindness, a collaborative focused on family services and child welfare. In recognition of her work serving Alaskan families, Shepler was included in Alaska Journal of Commerce’s Top 40 Under 40 list in 2018.

Across the university system, the number of health-related degrees has grown from 380 in 2000 to more than 1,000 in 2020. As the lead health campus for the system, the UAA College of Health collaborates with UAF and UAS to offer degree programs across the state including nursing, public health, mental health, and many others. Graduates are joining the Alaska health care workforce in the fight against COVID-19.  


UAS construction

Did you know students in the University of Alaska Southeast’s Construction Program help build homes for those in need as part of the program? For the last five years, the UAS Construction Department has partnered with Juneau Housing Trust and the Juneau School District to design and construct five homes for low income families in the Juneau area. This unique collaboration provides UAS students real world experience in construction while also giving back to the community. The program has graduated 31 students since the partnership began in 2015.

At UAS, women interested in the construction industry can receive up to $2,000 in tuition assistance and earn an associate degree or certification in construction thanks to a grant to promote Women in Construction. This is a great scholarship opportunity that encourages female students to enter the construction field.

“Students learn directly about the variety of hands-on skills, analytic reasoning, and problem solving applied while completing the various tasks involved in planning and building homes, and the various employment opportunities within the construction field,” said Robin Gilcrist, UAS Construction Technology associate professor and program director. 


UAF vet program

Did you know that University of Alaska Fairbanks Veterinary Medicine students work with Santa’s reindeers to maintain their health all year long? The UAF vet program partners with Colorado State University to train homegrown veterinarians, many of whom remain in Alaska to open or join veterinary practices after they graduate.

One of the benefits of studying veterinary medicine at UAF is the opportunity to work with the four-legged residents at the Large Animal Search Station, including muskox and reindeer.

The inaugural class of 10 students graduated from the UAF/CSU Veterinary program exchange in 2019, and more than half of the class returned to Alaska to work after graduating. Another nine students graduated in May 2020. This fall, 14 new vet students were admitted into the program, with preference given to Alaska applicants.

Students interested in a career in veterinary medicine can also earn an occupational certificate in Veterinary Assistance from Mat-Su College.


James Muller

Did you know that a world-renowned scholar on Sir Winston Churchill has taught for 38 years at the University of Alaska Anchorage in the Department of Political Science? Professor James W. Muller has dedicated his career to the study of the former British prime minister, statesman, officer, and writer, publishing dozens of papers, editing books, and traveling the world to lecture on Churchill. “Studying Churchill makes my students set their sights higher,” Muller says, adding that he encourages them to imitate Churchill’s determination and hard work.

Professor Muller’s distinguished career includes fellowships and positions as a visiting Churchill scholar at universities around the world, and he has served for more than 20 years on the Board of Academic Advisers to the International Churchill Society. His latest book is the complete, unabridged, annotated edition of The River War.  For the first time in more than 120 years, the full text of Churchill’s book will be back in print. 

November 30 is Churchill’s birthday. Every year on this day, Professor Muller and the UAA Political Science Dept. hosts a Chartwell Lecture featuring a well-known Churchill author or scholar. This year, the lecture was given by Piers Brendon, a Fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University, on Winston Churchill’s love of animals.  A recording of this year's lecture is available at the UAA Department of Political Science Lecture page. For more information, contact Kathleen L. Behnke in the Dean’s Office of the UAA College of Arts and Sciences, klbehnke@alaska.edu


RAHI students

Did you know that 83 percent of the freshman class for UAF’s College of Rural and Community Development this fall is made up of first generation college students? Across the UA system, one third of the fall first year class was comprised of first generation college students.

The University of Alaska strives to provide a welcoming environment and support system for first generation students and continues to encourage first generation students to explore higher education. For example, high school students from rural Alaska are welcomed to the UAF campus each summer to participate in RAHI (Rural Alaska Honors Institute), a program that provides opportunities for high school juniors and seniors to take summer courses and gain college credits to put towards an eventual undergraduate degree. Nearly 1,800 students have gone through the RAHI program since it began in 1983, with more than 1,100 earning degrees from the University of Alaska. Many of those graduates were first generation college students.


CTC Aviation Program

Did you know that the University of Alaska Anchorage’s program for training air traffic controllers [ATC] is nearly 50 years old? The ATC program was started in 1971 at Anchorage Community College and has become one of the top air traffic control programs in the country graduating more than 700 students in the past two decades alone. The nationally recognized program offers state-of-the-art air traffic control simulators and its grant-funded upgrade to the ATC radar simulation lab now replicates the current enroute radar systems. And, did you know that it is the only lab of its kind nationwide existing outside the FAA Academy? 

From a small classroom to today’s high tech, futuristic simulation technology, UAA's ATC program is an important part of Alaska's aviation history and a top destination for students to pursue a career in air traffic control. The growth of this program demonstrates the investment made by the university to meet the needs of Alaska’s aviation industry -- a major part of the state’s economy that impacts about 82 percent of Alaska communities not connected by a contiguous road system.


UAS at airport

Did you know that the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ drone program, also known as the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI), has just been selected to lead one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s eight new BEYOND program sites? In 2018 the FAA picked UAF as one of ten programs out of 149 applications to help find ways to advance flight techniques and capabilities that will better serve the state’s diverse needs. The drone research program accelerates that effort. The Alaska BEYOND team includes a diverse group of 27 partners across the state and nation, including the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Foundation Health Partners and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

ACUASI’s research focuses on increasing the distance a drone can fly from the pilot or controller. The further a drone can fly from its pilot, the more useful it becomes. Since drones can access areas that humans cannot, they are ideal for search and rescue situations, as well as for delivering emergency supplies to remote locations. UAF drones are used for operations including critical infrastructure monitoring, marine and land mammal surveys, sea ice modeling, atmospheric sampling, wildfire surveillance and tidewater glacier mapping.

Since the program’s inception in 2001, it has grown, gaining financial support from a multitude of public and private sources, including the FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS Research. The Center of Excellence funding alone currently provides more than $1.3 million for research at UAF, and ACUASI expects another $1.3 million from the program by late spring.


Robyn Capp

Did you know that UAS alum Robyn Capp is dedicating her teaching skills to helping students make an easier transition from the classroom to learning remotely? Capp, who graduated from UAS with a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education in 2019 and was recognized as the program’s Outstanding Graduate, received a $5,000 COVID-19 grant from the National Education Association (NEA) Foundation to create flexible learning kits for the students in her classroom at Randy Smith Middle School in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. 

Developed for the current school year, the kits were created to assist student learning as schools transition between risk levels. This will allow students to have access to familiar materials both in the classroom and at home. Each flexible learning kit includes core instructional material and hands-on activities. Additionally, each kit also will be individualized based on each student’s Individualized Education Program goals, objectives and specific family needs. The materials are aligned with Alaska’s Smart Start 2020. 

 Did you know that Ben Kellie [UAF ‘10] took a short path from helping his bush pilot father in Nikiski to launching SpaceX rockets in California? Learn more about his amazing career as part of a deep dive into UA's engineering programs and quality of the offerings through both the UAA and UAF programs in this video featured during the November Board of Regents meeting.


Boiling Consulting

Did you know that nearly 450 UA student interns have gone through the Sen. Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program [formerly known as the Legislative Internship Program] since its inception in 1988? One of those graduates, Elizabeth Bolling [UAS ‘13], now owns her own lobbying firm in Juneau. After graduating from UAS with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with an interdisciplinary concentration in Political Science, Anthropology and History, Elizabeth followed the entrepreneurial route and founded Bolling Consulting. “There’s no other place than Alaska where a 20-year-old can be a successful lobbyist with her own firm. You cannot do that in California,” she notes. Her current clients include those in the healthcare industry and companies that require her help in political strategy, communications and lobbying. Her firm is growing and she says she plans on hiring other UA grads in the future, but for now she’s putting her UAS degree to work for her clients and Alaska. 


RV Polarstern

Did you know that UAF researchers Rob Rember and Marc Oggier from the International Arctic Research Center were part of the world’s largest and most comprehensive Arctic expedition? They were aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern, which returned to port in October after a year-long expedition bringing with it a trove of data, along with countless samples of ice cores, snow and water collected while drifting near the North Pole. Rember and Oggier were part of the project called the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate [MOSAiC], the research vessel anchored to a large floe creating a small scientific village. In all, more than 300 scientists from 20 countries took part in the internationally funded expedition. Much of the data gathered will be used to improve scientists’ models of global warming, particularly in the Arctic, where change has been happening at a faster pace than elsewhere on the planet. 


Thompson & Co. PR

Did you know that Jennifer Thompson [UAA ‘00] leads one of the most successful PR agencies in Alaska? Thompson & Co. has grown from 5 employees in 2008 to more than 20 today, 8 of whom are UA grads, and has an office in Houston, Texas, and a subsidiary company, Blueprint Alaska. As a small business owner, Jennifer has put her communications degree to work for many of Alaska’s top companies in nearly every sector, including the state’s tourism industry. Her agency’s social media marketing and communications work has helped establish Alaska’s reputation as a leading tourist destination--attracting visitors from around the world.