Chelsea Brown went from high school in Georgia to a 35,000-student university nearby. However, the U.S. Army transferred her mother to Fairbanks a few years later, prompting Brown to follow and enroll at UAF.
Despite the cold and distance from relatives, she immediately felt welcome at the much smaller school. About 5,700 students attend classes on the Fairbanks campus.
“It’s just easy to do things in the community here,” she said.
In the two years she spent at UAF before graduating in spring 2018, those “things” added up to quite a list.
Brown, who majored in biology and minored in French, involved herself in many activities — and even founded a new organization.
“Coming from Kennesaw [State University in Georgia], it was such a big school it was almost like you didn’t exist,” she said. “It was just hard to stand out or even become a part of anything. It felt like you weren’t making a difference on campus.”
At UAF, the atmosphere felt different.
“I like that you kind of bump into the same people every day,” she said. “It’s not that hard to get involved with the campus community or student life.”
Brown, who has been interested in animals since her youth, joined the student chapters of The Wildlife Society and Ducks Unlimited.
She and other Wildlife Society students placed screens in outhouses at local campgrounds to keep birds out. “The birds were trying to nest in them and they were dying,” she explained.
Brown traveled to Oakland, California, over spring break in 2017 to volunteer at a boys and girls club. UAF’s Student Leadership and Involvement office organizes the annual “alternative spring break.”
The following fall, Brown spent a semester at sea. The ship brought her to eight countries, including Ghana, South Africa and Myanmar. While onboard, she took upper-level biology classes that contributed to her degree.
When she returned, she started a Black Student Union chapter at UAF. She hopes the organization will continue after her graduation.
She also worked at One Tree, a UAF program that focuses on trees as a way to teach science and art to students of all ages.
Brown initially planned to enter veterinary school, but her interests evolved after coming to UAF. She now plans to enter graduate school and focus on research. She said the myriad scientific opportunities at UAF inspired her.
“I know other schools have that, too, but here it just spoke louder,” she said.
Brown describes herself as an “Army brat,” so she was accustomed to finding her way in new places. Nevertheless, moving to Fairbanks from Georgia was “definitely an adjustment.”
She did adjust, though, as she discovered when she visited her grandmother in Florida.
“Florida tried to kill me — it was so hot,” she said. “I’m not used to it anymore.”