Nanook Nation rallies for students on Giving Tuesday

UAF photo by Amy Chausse.
Kim McFadden, assistant registrar for data and data systems, (at left) and Stephanie Strandberg, records coordinator, show their heart hands during the UAF Military and Veterans Services registration event at the Wood Center in November 2023.

By Katie Straub

Sometimes, working hard and doing everything right isn’t enough.

For students without a safety net, one financial setback can mean the difference between leaving school and staying on course to finish a degree. On Nov. 28, Nanook Nation rallied to ensure that such students can get help when they need it.

Nov. 28 was Giving Tuesday, a global event that began as a simple idea to dedicate a day each year to encourage people to do good. The day has demonstrated that if we all do small acts of kindness, we can make a huge impact.

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UAF photo by Amy Chausse.
From left, Edward Brown, Lucy McWilliams and Alexia Devine, all undergraduate students in music education, show their heart hands while fundraising for the UAF choir program in Wood Center in November 2023.

In its inaugural year, UAF focused Giving Tuesday efforts on the UAF Student Support Fund. The fund acts as an emergency scholarship to help students facing unexpected challenges, such as medical expenses, housing issues and other financial burdens.

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Photo courtesy of Danny Vaziri.
Nathaniel Savel ’17 and Danny Vaziri ’18, ’20 pose with the Governor's Cup statue in 2017 before the big game.

“The Student Support Fund was created to help students in their most critical time of need — when they have done everything right to try and be successful and just need that little bit of grace,” said Kaydee Van Flein, executive director of UAF’s Office of Rights, Compliance and Accountability. “When that barrier is financial, the generosity of donors to this fund is the key to us helping these students.”

UAF set a goal of 23 donations to symbolize the year 2023. The response from Nanook Nation far exceeded expectations, with 35 donors giving over $4,000. Linda Biggar, whose sister was a UAF alum, donated an additional $10,000 to the fund after the initial goal was achieved.

Biggar gives to the UAF Student Support Fund because she likes helping students who are in an emergency situation and for whom this resource might be the only means to stay in school.

Kristin Clark `20, who received an emergency scholarship the year she graduated, credited the funding with keeping her on the path to earn her social work degree and begin graduate school.

“Without the scholarship, I would have had to choose between [tuition] and my family being able to have a house to live in or food to eat,” she said.

The UAF Student Support Fund was established in 2019 through a planned gift from the late James Pruitt `73. His contribution, the largest in the history of the UAF Alumni Association, inspired the association’s board to establish the emergency scholarship.

Tom Brice `90, UAFAA president, said the fund plays a vital role. 

“Getting your education isn’t always as straightforward as it’s portrayed,” Brice said. “When the alumni board was discussing our support for this fund, everyone seemed to have a personal experience, whether about themselves or a friend, where this fund would have made a world of difference.” 

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UAF photo by Adam Rubin.
Emily Moretz ’22, Brooke Larson and Leif Van Cise ’22 celebrate the success of UAF's Giving Tuesday on Nov. 28, 2023, with a Nanook bear hug.

The fund gained momentum in early 2020 with proceeds directed from the UAF Blue and Gold Celebration, held just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Danny Vaziri `20, who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, said access to the funds during the pandemic was crucial.

“I couldn’t have made it through the Covid-19 shutdown at UAF without the Student Support Fund,” he said.

Vaziri’s personal experience highlighted the critical assistance the fund provides during challenging times, allowing students to overcome financial obstacles and continue their education.

“When I couldn’t afford a flight home, the university stepped in, providing the financial help I needed,” he said. “It’s a testament to how alumni and donor support can make a real difference in a student’s life during tough times.”

The overwhelming success of Giving Tuesday at UAF echoes the spirit of collective goodwill that inspired the creation of this essential fund.

“We are just so grateful to everyone who participated in Giving Tuesday and showed support in this way — investing in the educational goals of Nanook Nation,” Van Flein added. “It’s inspiring.”