UAF’s Rural Student Services marks a half century of service

Rural Student Services at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will kick off its 50th anniversary with a brunch celebration on Sunday, Oct. 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Gathering Room in the Brooks Building.

The event, which is open to the public, will include comments from some of the original advocates for the program, which was formerly known as Student Orientation Services, as well as university leaders and past students.

“We are celebrating student success across generations,” said Sandy Kowalski, director of indigenous programs at UAF. “If you have ever been involved in RSS in any way, come celebrate with us. We will eat satisfying food, share great memories and honor those who have impacted student success through RSS.”

The event will also include hundreds of photos from the last five decades. Attendees will be able to use their own phones and cameras to take pictures of the old photos. RSS is also asking attendees to help identify and organize the photos.

“There are so many photos to organize that it is beyond any one person’s or group’s capacity to recognize and know details of the images, so we want to take this opportunity and crowd-source the effort, as well as allow attendees an opportunity to enjoy seeing these images that spark wonderful memories and conversations,” Kowalski said.

Since its inception in 1969, thousands of students have passed through RSS on their way to earning their degrees at UAF. The university created the precursor to RSS, Student Orientation Services, after students lobbied the Alaska Legislature for a program to assist Alaska Native students in achieving their educational goals. Their efforts resulted in a legislative resolution asking the university to institute such a program, and SOS was born.

While its primary function is student advising, RSS also serves as a cultural hub for Alaska Native and rural students. The program supports nearly a dozen academic and cultural student organizations and offers academic tutoring. Students know RSS as a home away from home, with access to rural Alaska newspapers, traditional foods, and a space to gather and find support among other rural students.

The program serves an average of 500 students each year and has helped increase the retention rates of rural and Alaska Native students. In the past 30 years alone, RSS has played a part in the graduation of more than 4,400 Alaska Native students.