Friday Focus: Rev-it-up

Headshot photo of UAF Chancellor Dan White
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
UAF Chancellor Dan White

Aug. 26, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

Wednesday was my favorite day of the year. Rev-it-up is the whole cacophony of events that make move-in day for first-year students (and their families) one of celebration and engagement. Since the first time I participated in Rev-it-up I was sold. It is my fave.

Rain or shine, students and their families show up to move-in day to embark on a new journey. For both the students and the parents, this is the first day of the rest of their lives. From here forward, their lives are going in new directions. It is a day full of anxiety, anticipation, excitement, reflection, hope, fear, joy, trepidation and love. The opportunity to be part of that in such a meaningful way makes all of our jobs feel viscerally relevant. Both students and families have entrusted each of us with this next phase of their lives. Powerful!

More than 50 percent of UAF’s students are first-generation college goers. They are the first in their family to attend college. Starting college can be scary, even if your parents or sibling has a college degree. It can be even scarier if there is no one in your family or even in your immediate friend group who knows what it means to go to college. How do you register or find an advisor? Equally or more importantly, how will I get food I like, find friends, and will anyone be like me? All these anxieties are invariably wrapped up in their heart in the overwhelming question, will I belong?

Talking to first-generation students on move-in day made me think of the Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center and why it is so important to UAF. A full 20 percent of our students are Alaska Native and come from communities across the state. Some are from hub communities like Bethel and Dillingham, but many hail from small towns on rivers coasts and in mountain passes – inaccessible by road. Fairbanks is the big city and UAF, in its many forms, is confusing. How can a student with no experience in a university setting understand their place at UAF?

While UAF is a part of a system of higher education, we ourselves are a system composed of rural colleges, research sites, a community and technical college, and a research university. We are a ship, a rocket range and a fleet of drones. Some of the world's most cutting edge research is right here at UAF! Students are here from 250 Alaska communities, all 50 states and 35 countries. Wow. We are as diverse as the world we live in. So for a student who is the first in their family to go to college, from a small town 500 miles from the nearest stoplight, yeah, this can be scary.

I heard the Elder and Reverend Dr. Anna Frank tell a story about what it is like for her people to go to college. For her, and in her village, sending a student to college is like sending them in a canoe, on a journey across the river. The family may not know what is on the other side and cannot advise their son or daughter on how to navigate the river or what to expect on the opposite shore.

The Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center is designed to be that place on the other side of the river. That beacon, that home, a place of belonging. It will house our Alaska Native programs, languages, student support structures, and spaces for research and education. It will have a kitchen for preparing subsistence foods, for butchering moose or giving students an opportunity to share their experiences and cultural practices. We are just in the beginning of raising the $40M needed to construct the building. Thanks to Kinross Fort Knox coming through this summer for us, we are $1 million closer to making it a reality.

Belonging is well known to be a key to success in college. Students who feel a sense of community, are supported by friends, mentors, and advocates succeed. Especially for first-generation students, belonging is crucial.

The Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center is all about belonging. I look forward to the day that Alaska Native people, whether they are in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Hoonah or Wainwright –  wherever they are or wherever they are from – say that UAF is the place that Troth Yeddha’ lives. And families take comfort in the fact that they are sending their sons and daughters across the river to a belonging place. The students braving the journey to college begin that journey saying, across the river lives a place for me, a place where I belong. There will be people there to meet me. People who share my beliefs. I have never been to the other side of the river, but I know what awaits me. I know that I am on my way to Troth Yeddha’.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF's leadership team every week.