Friday Focus: A lifelong Alaskan and proud alumna

January 21, 2021

Tori Tragis

Charlene Stern. Photo by Rachel Saylor, Tanana Chiefs Conference.
Charlene Stern. Photo by Rachel Saylor, Tanana Chiefs Conference.

— by Charlene Stern, interim vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education

In January, I was appointed by the chancellor to serve as the interim vice chancellor for rural, Native and community education, or VCRNE. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor, Evon Peter, for his service to the university and also to the broader Alaska Native community as a whole. 

In the interest of sharing more about myself with the broader UAF community, I am a lifelong Alaskan and a proud alumna of UAF. My maternal family is from the small, remote community of Arctic Village located in the northeastern Interior of Alaska. My paternal family is from the Bay Area of California. I was born and raised in Fairbanks while also spending my summers and holidays in Arctic Village. 

After graduating from high school, I attended Western Washington University in Bellingham where I earned a bachelor's degree in American cultural studies with a minor in political science. It was during that period that I became very passionate about community engagement and advocacy. In 2003, I moved to Albuquerque to pursue a master’s degree in community and regional planning from the University of New Mexico. As a graduate student, I had the wonderful opportunity to work on applied community planning projects with tribal communities such as the Pueblo of Isleta and the Pueblo of Santo Domingo. Based on those experiences, I discovered my career passion as a professional planner. 

After graduating and moving back to Alaska, I worked in the nonprofit sector for seven years. Much of that time was spent working alongside tribal and municipal governments in rural Alaska to develop and update community plans and to implement community development projects. I continue to be very passionate about the role of nonprofit organizations in helping to respond to unmet needs in our state. In addition to my role at UAF, I also serve as vice president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a board member of the Fairbanks Native Association, and as a U.S. appointee on the International Porcupine Caribou Management Board. 

It is my distinct honor to be called to serve in the role of interim VCRNE position. Since 2014, I have taught as a full-time faculty member within the College of Rural and Community Development including serving two years as co-chair of the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development. I also received my Ph.D. in Indigenous studies from UAF in 2018. My experiences as a former student and faculty member have helped me to better understand the uniqueness of what UAF has to offer. 

As we look forward to the new year, I want to extend my best wishes to all UAF staff, faculty, administrators and students. I look forward to engaging with many of you as we continue to work collectively to meet UAF’s mission and to be responsive to the needs of those we serve. “Drin Choo Shroonchyaa” (“Happy New Year” in Gwich’in). 

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is invited to contribute a column.