Many university students face rocky paths. But rarely are they as daunting as what Emily Tyrrell has faced over the past 10 years.
Born in Alaska and raised in Texas, Tyrrell moved back to Alaska to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks. There she met and married Jacob Tyrrell, whose crystal blue eyes and quintessential Alaska sense of adventure had captured her heart. Jacob, a fisherman and hunter from a small rural
community 300 miles north of Fairbanks, was pursuing a master’s degree in justice. They opened their home to Emily’s 13-year-old sister Holly, and had a baby, Anya. Just 14 months later, Jake was killed in a motorcycle accident. Emily was 23.
With no life insurance and no bereavement leave available through her part-time job, “I had a week to bury him and then back to work,” Tyrrell says. She went to work full time to pay bills, moving her small family to Anchorage just a few months after the accident.
“I’d go to work, come home and cry myself to sleep. I was on autopilot. One night I lay in bed thinking: Is this it? Is this my life?”
She considered returning to school, but brushed off those thoughts until a friend encouraged her. “He told me something that really resonated: that at the end of the day, the worst thing that would happen is I’d have a college degree. And nothing can take that away.”
That was 10 years ago. The journey from then to now has been strewn with long hours, hard work and lots of support. That support included a University of Alaska grant, tuition waivers, and a UAA General Scholarship, as well as scholarships from GCI, Inc., Doyon, Ltd., Bering Straits Foundation and Sitnasuak Foundation. Tyrrell graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2012 with a BA in Public Relations. Now she’s working toward her MBA at Alaska Pacific University while working
full time at the Pebble Partnership.
“Scholarships allowed me to be a better parent and a better student. I’ll always be indebted to the donors who helped me out,” Tyrrell said. Scholarships allowed her to be both a focused student in her classes and a dedicated mom and sister at home.
“It’s so funny how all of this ties in,” Tyrrell observes. “None of this would have happened without the help I received.”
And that help is paying forward. Tyrrell’s younger sister, now 22, is applying to nursing school. “She and my daughter have seen how to work. It’s touched their lives, too.”