The UAF Experience

UAF--Then and Now

UAF's Fairbanks campus is located four miles west of downtown Fairbanks on a low ridge overlooking the Chena and Tanana river floodplains. Artifacts found on the bluff tell us tribal groups used the hill beginning perhaps 3,500 years ago. It offered a wide view of the flats below and probably served as a base camp for hunting and gathering.

The Early Years

Gold discoveries in the early 1900s brought sudden changes to the Tanana Valley. In 1906 the hill where UAF now stands became part of a federal Agricultural Experiment Station, and in 1915 U.S. Congress approved money and transferred a piece of land from this station to establish a school of higher education. With a federal land grant, the institution began as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines with research and teaching in support of agriculture and mining as its focus. Two years later the Alaska Territorial Legislature added funding, and in 1922, when construction of the first building was completed, the college opened its doors to students. In the first year, a faculty of six offered 16 classes to a student body of six. Commencement in 1923 consisted of a single graduate.

The institution quickly began to grow. In 1931 the federal government transferred the entire Agricultural Experiment Station to the college. In 1935 the Alaska Territorial Legislature changed the institution's name to the University of Alaska to reflect the school's expanding role in research, teaching and public service for all Alaska. By then, faculty and course offerings had grown to include a range of liberal arts, science and engineering.

World War II brought a rapid influx of population and development to the territory. A wartime national awareness of the need for scientific polar research in the interests of defense and communications led to the establishment in 1946 of the Geophysical Institute. Since its inception, the GI has earned an international reputation for its studies of the earth and the physical environment at high latitudes. The university awarded its first Ph.D. degree to a geophysics student in 1955.

Statehood and Beyond

The University of Alaska had a significant role in the statehood movement of the 1950s, when the Constitutional Convention was held on campus. The Alaska Constitution was drafted in what is now Constitution Hall and signed in stately Signers' Hall, now the home of UAF student service and administrative offices. Alaska became the nation's 49th state in 1959.

Research expanded broadly in the decade of the 1960s with the establishment of institutes in several disciplines. The Alaska Legislature created the Institute of Marine Science in 1960 and the Institute of Arctic Biology two years later. Since 1969 the Geophysical Institute has operated Poker Flat Research Range, providing launch facilities for NASA and the Department of Defense. Poker Flat is the only university-owned rocket range in the world.

In 1970 the university was designated a federal sea grant institution for marine research. Today the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences operates the 133-foot research vessel Alpha Helix for the National Science Foundation out of the Seward Marine Center. Stations in Kodiak and Juneau are also actively involved in marine and fisheries research.

In 1972 the Alaska Legislature established the Alaska Native Language Center and provided operating funds. Since then the university has supported research, documentation and teaching of the state's 20 Native languages.

To meet the need for expanding services for all Alaskans, the University of Alaska statewide system was created in 1975. Campuses in Anchorage and Juneau were assigned their own chancellors and central staffs, with the statewide administration and overall university president remaining in Fairbanks.

Meanwhile, the main campus in Fairbanks continued to expand and improve. The University of Alaska Museum of the North, one of the state's most popular visitor attractions, moved into the Otto Geist Building in 1980. The museum's unique collection offers the public a view of the rich and varied culture of the North.

In 1981, UAF enrollment topped 5,000 students for the first time. The university also began to emphasize its shared scholarship and global education efforts in a series of agreements with schools in Japan, Denmark, Canada, People's Republic of China, and Russia. The institution has branched out to include rural campuses in Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome and the Interior. Education centers in Fort Yukon, Galena, McGrath, Nenana, Tok and Unalaska provide additional education services to rural Alaskans.

UAF's public service role is filled in part by the statewide Cooperative Extension Service with its eight district offices. Public broadcasting stations KUAC-FM and AlaskaONE TV, the first public stations in the state, are headquartered at UAF.

In 1991 NASA named UAF a space grant institution for aerospace research, making it a Land, Sea and Space Grant institution. Its colleges and schools offer more than 100 disciplines with a variety of vocational and technical programs. Graduate degrees are available in a wide range of academic study. UAF is internationally known for its research in the Pacific Rim and the circumpolar North. It is consistently among the top 100 universities in the nation for funding from the National Science Foundation.


UAF is the only doctoral-granting institution in Alaska, offering Ph.D. degrees in anthropology, several of the physical and natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Master's degrees are offered in more than 50 fields in the humanities, social sciences, northern studies, physical and natural sciences, and in professional fields such as engineering, justice, education and business administration. Interdisciplinary programs are possible for students who have a research focus in areas where UAF has faculty expertise and research facilities available.


Individualism and diversity are Alaska traditions. At UAF, students find not only a broad mix of cultures and ages, but also a climate of respect for individual rights and preferences. A student from a rural Alaska village will share knowledge and insights with others from places as distant as Tallahassee or Tokyo. UAF's enrollment in the fall of 2004 was 9,683 students. Of those, 60 percent are female and 40 percent male; 85 percent are from Alaska, 12 percent are from other states, and 3 percent are from foreign countries; 88 percent are undergraduate and 12 percent are graduate students. UAF students hail from all 50 states and 46 foreign countries.

A number of students are "non-traditional." They study at night or after work and balance schoolwork with family responsibilities. The university offers a wide variety of night and weekend classes. Many students live in remote areas of the state and attend classes through distance delivery. Using computers, telephones and the latest Internet technology, students can work toward their degrees without leaving home.

Many students take advantage of a UAF exchange program to study in Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Russia, or Switzerland, or the National Student Exchange program, which offers studies at universities throughout the United States. There are more than 70 student organizations on campus, and students sponsor the weekly Sun Star newspaper, KSUA radio and television station and scores of special interest groups.


At UAF you will find faculty members who are among the best in the country, and because of the low student/faculty ratio, you receive more personal attention here than you would at almost any other public university in the nation. Once you have chosen a major, you will be assigned a faculty advisor from your academic department. Your advisor will help you choose classes each semester and will explain various programs and requirements. You will get to know the faculty not just as professors, but as friends, advisors and mentors. Education is an individual process, different for everyone. At UAF, you will be treated as a person, not just a face in the crowd.

UAF's Mission

The University of Alaska Fairbanks, as the nation's northernmost Land, Sea, and Space Grant university and international research center, advances and disseminates knowledge through creative teaching, research, and public service with an emphasis on Alaska, the North and their diverse peoples.
--Board of Regents Policy 10.01.03, adopted April 21, 2000

Commitment to Quality

UAF acts continuously to assess and improve the educational experience for its students. Students evaluate their teachers at the end of each semester, and those student opinion reports are available for review at the Rasmuson Library. Faculty and administrators evaluate courses in the core curriculum every year. Each degree program and certificate is assessed at least every five years. Results are used directly to change and improve the education provided by UAF. The learning outcomes expected for each degree program can be viewed online at