Spotlight: UA Scholars Program

President Gamble addresses UA Scholars and their families at a reception at UAA.

The UA Scholars Program Has Helped Transform Alaska's Higher Education Recruitment

by Monique Musick

The UA Scholars Program has changed the face of the University of Alaska. Before the program began in 1999 only 44 percent of Alaskan high school graduates attended college, and of those students only 44 percent chose the University of Alaska. Today over half of Alaskan high school graduates attend a university of which 63 percent choose the University of Alaska. So what is the UA Scholars program, and how did it help improve college attendance?

The UA Scholars Program offers an $11,000 scholarship to attend the University of Alaska to the top 10 percent of students in each qualified high school graduating class in Alaska. The scholarship program is funded from the Land Grant Trust Fund. Approximately 3.5 million dollars from the trust is invested into the program each year. The scholarship acts as an incentive for those students to attend the University of Alaska and stay in the state. Over the years more and more top Alaskan students are utilizing the opportunity. Currently there is a 43 percent acceptance rate of the scholarship.

Each year the new cohort of scholars are invited to a reception at UAA, UAF or UAS where they get the opportunity to hear from the university president, chancellor and former UA scholars and have their photo taken individually with the president and chancellor. Following the formal presentation the students have an opportunity to meet with campus representatives from across the system and learn about the various programs and services offed at UA’s 16 campuses.

Many of the UA Scholars who attend the University of Alaska are interested in health and medical fields. This is important because Alaska is in great need of trained health care professionals.

The results have been remarkable. As of fall 2010 over 5,271 students accepted the scholarship and attended at least one semester at UA. Over 1,870 undergraduate degrees have been awarded to UA Scholars and 29 scholars went on to receive a master’s degree. Among those graduates 98 percent are now living in Alaska and 82 percent are working in-state.

The program is geared to align closely with the core mission of the university. The goal of educating the diverse peoples of Alaska is a particular highlight. High school seniors from over 450 Alaska communities have been accepted into the program. While the numbers have been higher from urban areas, the impact on rural Alaska has been great. In some cases the recipients of this scholarship represent not only the first in a family to attend college but the first in a community.

Coordinating the program throughout the state relies on the hard work of the UA scholars staff. They reach out to school guidance counselors and leadership to educate them on the program and assist them in identifying eligible students. Scholars staff also attend PTA functions in an attempt to raise awareness amongst parents and school leadership. Turn-over rates in rural Alaska can be high and it requires a constant flow of communication to keep the program accessible to as many Alaskans as possible no matter where they study.

The digital age has been instrumental in streamlining the communications and referral systems. Students can now be designated as a UA Scholar by their school online. Written and electronic correspondence is sent throughout the state informing schools of deadlines and processes and informing all involved of any changes within the program.

Class of 2012 UA Scholar Carolyn Deskins plans to persue her interest in film and video at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Once in the program, the support for students never stops. Scholars staff regularly assist students as any number of life events and challenges arise. They help them locate and apply for additional forms of financial aid or help guide them through the sometimes confusing university processes. They strive to make the scholars experience at UA the best possible without bias toward any one campus or location.

Educating students about all their opportunities as a UA Scholar is another important outreach effort. One of the reasons so many students leave the state for their higher education is for the opportunity to travel and explore new places. Scholars staff have been working to reach out and inform scholars about the national and international exchange programs that are available to UA students. Through these programs students pay Alaska resident tuition but attend a partner college in another state or country. As more students become aware of the opportunity to both stay in Alaska and travel abroad additional students are choosing to attend the University of Alaska through this program. The best part is that the students return to Alaska after their exchange and are poised to become an important part of the state’s economy.

The importance of this program to the state should not be overlooked. Because scholars come from communities from all corners of the state, the program doubles as an ambassador program bringing Alaska’s future leaders from rural and urban communities together to learn and share.   The University of Alaska focuses on delivering training in Alaska’s high-demand industries and employment needs. The scholarship program can be applied to vocational programs or degrees programs: whatever it is that the scholar and their community may need. Right now Alaska is poised to become a global leader in climate research, resource development, energy research and more. By keeping the top students from Alaska in state to study these important topics Alaska will be in a stronger position in the future and the communities from which these scholars come will be stronger.

The introduction of the governor’s Alaska Performance Scholarship has the potential to strengthen the program even more. The two scholarships can be used together. Combined, top Alaskan students can attend the University of Alaska, earn their degree, and graduate with little or no debt. As tuition and fees rise throughout the country the appeal of high quality, affordable education will continue to attract more of Alaska’s top performing students to stay in state.

After over 15 years as the executive director of the college savings and scholars program, Linda English recently left the to work at the University of Nevada. Recruitment and hiring process for a new executive director is underway. For now, under the supervision of Associate Vice President Jim Lynch, the UA Scholars staff Bonnie Carroll, Buffy Kuiper and Laurie Fowler work hard to manage this important program.

Meet the UA Scholars Staff

Bonnie Carroll

Bonnie Carroll spends much of her time outside the office centered on her two young children. When not chasing and playing with the kids she enjoys relaxing with a good book. She travels often along with her husband and family. She keeps active with competitive badminton and has completed the rigorous P90x workout program three times. A creative and crafty person, Caroll enjoys do-it-yourself projects for the home and children.

Buffy Kuiper

Buffy Kuiper is a true Alaskan, with a passion for the outdoors and is not afraid to get her hands dirty.  She began her career with the university in 2000, as a student parking attendant. After receiving her bachelor's in marketing, she found it difficult to find employment in her field, so she began working construction. The beauty of it was that her construction job was on the UAF campus! She helped construct the West Ridge Research Building from a 20-foot hole in the ground to the final product that it is today. In 2004, she became the coordinator for the University Fire Department. In 2006, she was lucky enough to become part of the team at statewide, working for the UA College Savings Plan and UA Scholars Programs. In the summer of 2007, she and her husband, Forrest, built their current home in North Pole. In May 2011, she earned her MBA in capital markets. Buffy and her husband tackled the ultimate Alaskan experience and built their own recreational log cabin on the banks of the Chena River. In her spare time, she enjoys running with her dog Copper, camping, gardening, boating and volunteering at the local racetrack.

The Kuiper's have been blessed with the early arrival of their son, Glacier Robert Kuiper born on September 17, 2012, weighing 3 pounds 3 ounces and 17 inches long. They enjoy spending quality time with him and telling him about the wonderful things the Last Frontier has to offer.  It's amazing how quickly he is growing. "We are blessed to work for such a wonderful employer and would like to thank all our colleagues for all their love and support," said Kuiper.

Laurie Fowler

Laurie Fowler was born in Oregon but moved to and was raised in Alaska since grade school. She comes from a family of six, including three brothers who remain very close. Fowler married her high school sweetheart Keith. They are approaching their 19th wedding anniversary. They have four children, three girls and a boy, who range in ages from 6-18. One child is in kindergarten, the others are in junior high, high school and beauty college respectively. They all keep her very busy! When not rushing to and from games and tournaments, she’s picking up and dropping off at other locations or helping with endless homework. Fowler is big on friends and family and loves hosting get-togethers with all of them. She is definitely a people person. Fowler also loves spending time in the outdoors but only during the summer months. The family likes to travel, camp and boat during the summer but hibernate during the winter, most recently with a good book. One of her passions is volunteering in the community and making a difference. She loves Alaska and the people in it.

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