System Employees Graduate at UAF Commencement
The UA System Office had a number of employees walk across the stage at the Carlson Center during the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ commencement ceremony May 15. Here’s a brief look at some of them:
Michelle Pope, assistant director of payroll and benefit accounting in Human Resources, earned a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in General Management. She started in the fall of 2006, but took a semester off here and there. Michelle earned her undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Michelle said she wanted to earn an MBA to help sharpen on-the-job skills as well as prepare for career advancement opportunities.
“The biggest obstacle was balancing home life with work, school and community obligations. I had a lot of help from my husband, Jeff Pope, and friends to help fulfill other obligations so I could attend school,” Michelle said. “I’d also like to thank my father, Norm Brazel, who was always encouraging even when I felt like giving up.”
Britton Anderson, a support center analyst at the OIT Support Center, earned an Associate of Applied Science degree, Information Technology Specialist. He plans to continue on, either pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration or a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering.
Britton was a full-time student at UAF for a year prior to coming to work full-time at OIT three years ago. “After being at work until 5 p.m., it took me about five semesters of class until 10 p.m., usually three days a week, to finish the last 35 credits,” Britton said.
He originally came to UAF to pursue a degree in Music Performance because of the program’s reputation and a professor’s recruitment of him while he was still in high school. The initial campus visit was very positive, and “set the hook,” Britton said. “Then being a hockey fan, the UAF hockey team was the reel that pulled me in.”
After his music professor and advisor left, Britton said he got stuck in a “what do I do now?” loop. He eventually decided to pursue the Information Technology degree.
“Once I got started as a full-time staff member, time really became a factor. I’d be at work until 5 then have 30 minutes, sometimes an hour before class would start, and I’d be in class until 10 at night. Some classes I had were on Saturday and Sunday for a few hours, so naturally, my personal life suffered and I gained a bit of weight,” he said. “But fortunately, it was worth it.”
Britton said he’d like to thank his co-workers and supervisors at the university for being supportive and understanding about his need for flexibility now and then, especially during the final weeks of each term.
Antonia (Toni) Trice, administrative coordinator for Planning and Budget, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, which took her five years to complete. During two of those years she took a full load of courses while working 30 hours per week. Toni started out as a student employee in Planning and Budget and was promoted to administrative coordinator in November 2009.
“I grew up in Fairbanks and couldn’t imagine myself moving anywhere else after high school to attend college. UAF had a good Social Work program (I started out as a Social Work major), but I soon switched to the Justice program. Staying in Fairbanks to pursue my degree was the best option for me,” she said.
It was challenging working so many hours while taking classes. In the evenings, homework was the last thing on her mind. “I definitely became a lot better at time management during the process and I also became a more disciplined person,” she said. “Being young and trying to have a social life while working and going to school full-time was a tough challenge as well, but I’m glad I stayed on track and accomplished my goal.”
Her family is glad, too. Toni said her parents and siblings were always her biggest supporters. “They always stuck by my side and encouraged me to do better whenever I got tired and felt like giving up,” she said. Toni had 19 family members come up to Alaska from the Lower 48 for the commencement ceremony. “I love and appreciate each and every one of them for supporting me through this process!”
Adam Watson, a research analyst in Planning and Institutional Research, earned a Master’s of Science in Statistics. His thesis was titled “Using Financial Aid Support to Model Probability of Student Success, Incorporating a Comparison of the Predictive Accuracy of Logistic Regression and Gradient Boosting." Working toward the degree took Adam 21 months; he worked at Statewide as a part-time research assistant for nine months and has been a full-time research analyst for one year. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1990.
Adam is most thankful to his wife, Bridget, for her support during his graduate studies. The couple are expecting the birth of their first child, a daughter, in the next few weeks. Adam chose to pursue graduate studies at UAF because he wanted to remain in Alaska. He’s still working toward a master’s in biology as well.
“Time pressure was the biggest obstacle--finding the hours in the day to get all of the work done. My wife Bridget is also a full-time university employee and graduate student. We gave up our extraneous lives; everything revolved around grad school and work. Statewide Budget and Institutional Research has been very supportive, which helped a lot,” Adam said.
Kate Ripley, public affairs director, will earn her Master of Arts in Northern Studies from UAF in August. In April she successfully defended her thesis “Weekend Wilderness: the Cultural and Spiritual Necessity of the White Mountains National Recreation Area. ” Her undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, is from the University of Montana in Missoula.
Kate took seven years to complete the Northern Studies master’s program, the same timeframe she has been in her current position at Statewide and the same age as her youngest child. She and husband Brian O’Donoghue have three active children who keep them busy in addition to full-time jobs. A brain tumor four years ago and a resulting seizure disorder also threw some curveballs for Kate along the way.
“I walked in commencement because I knew I wouldn’t do it next year, almost a year after finishing, “ she said. “I also thought it was important to show our kids that learning continues your entire life, and that reaching goals isn’t always easy.”
She said her graduate committee -- Terrence Cole, Mary Ehrlander, Mike Sfraga and Judith Kleinfeld – were wise counselors. “My husband Brian and our children Rory, Robin and Rachel O’Donoghue also deserve a lot of thanks for being patient and understanding. Also thank you to my parents, Rudy and Judy Ripley of Juneau, who instilled in me a genuine love of the outdoors. They inspired my cabin logbook research in the White Mountains, as we had a cabin on the Taku River growing up and my mom faithfully wrote in our cabin journal each visit.”
Anthony Foran, a student support center analyst in the OIT Support Center, earned an Associate of Applied Science, Information Technology Specialist. It took him two years to earn the degree from UAF’s Community and Technical College.
Anthony has been with OIT for the past two years. “I enjoyed my work with OIT and decided I’d like to make a full-time career out of it,” he said.
Balancing full-time work while attending classes full time was challenging, but thanks to a flexible schedule, Anthony was able to succeed.
Anthony said he’d like to thank Lead Support Center Analyst Kenny Coon and Support Center Manager Martha Mason “for always being flexible and allowing me to work full time while taking classes.”
Valerie Joyce Robancho-Andresen
Valerie Joyce Robancho-Andresen, a student assistant for Public Affairs, earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, which took 4 ½ years to complete while working part-time. She started UAF with almost a semester of college credits earned while in high school and was originally a double major in both Psychology and Justice. She plans to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in justice, is currently working on an Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies and hopes to go to graduate school in the future.
Valerie, who was born and raised in Kodiak, said she chose UAF because she wanted to stay in Alaska and be close to family.
“Growing up is one of the hardest obstacles in life--being 18 in a new city, all on your own. There were bad academic choices and a lot of nights where I was burning the midnight oil, but it has been a humbling and significant experience during my time at UAF, and I will never forget it,” she said.
Valerie said she mostly wants to thank her mom and dad for everything they’ve done for her over the years. She also thanks Janet Schichnes, “for being the best advisor and mentor” and “the whole UAF Psychology Department, for being my surrogate family during my early years.”
Special thanks from Valerie also goes to her husband, Forrest Andresen---“my biggest cheerleader for all these years, and my study buddy.”
Buffy Kuiper, senior program specialist with the UA Scholars Program and UA College Savings Plan for the last five years, earned a Master of Business Administration, with an emphasis in Capital Markets. It took her three years to earn the degree while working for the university full-time.
She received her undergraduate degree from UAF as well -- a Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing.
“Receiving an MBA was a personal goal of mine. In the long-term it will provide more professional development opportunities,” Buffy said. “I wanted to challenge myself.”
Some challenges included having to rely on her husband and family to take care of her dog on the nights she had class, as well as the adjustment to spending a great deal of time at the university, often from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. at least two or more nights per week. The lack of free time to spend on other hobbies she enjoys was difficult at times, but she was willing to sacrifice hobbies to pursue her goal of a graduate degree.
“First and foremost, I need to thank my husband Forrest for encouraging me to continue my education, and supporting me every step of the way,” Buffy said. “I’d also like to thank my office for their continued support.”
Cara Brunk in OIT also earned her Masters in Business Administration, but we weren’t able to catch up with her in time for this article.
If we missed any of Statewide’s graduates this year, we’d still like to hear from you for the June issue of the Statewide Voice. Please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.