Friday Focus: Confidence in UAF

May 29, 2020

Tori Tragis

Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

While students across the country are waiting to sign up at their universities, they — and you — can have confidence in UAF. 

Why? Because a world-class education awaits. Because UAF is the global leader in Arctic research, Alaska Native and Indigenous Studies, and because we serve our communities with industry-leading trades and training. Because UAF alumni own an education that is recognized around the world. UAF is affordable, and the Nanook Pledge, our new scholarship program, can make it even more so. 

But what about COVID-19, on-campus living, the state budget? Would it be best to wait? Not at all. Last week our guest Friday Focus writer, associate director for recruitment Anna Gagne-Hawes, closed her column by saying, “Thank you to the entire UAF community for all the work you do. I never question our efforts in recruiting students to UAF, knowing they are in good hands once they get here.” That’s exactly right. Students are in good hands at UAF.

When COVID-19 hit in earnest in March, UAF went online in a week. Faculty made adjustments, students made adjustments, and we thrived in the spring semester together. One thousand courses were put into distance mode in a week. Everyone responded, from our faculty and staff to our heat and power plant employees and our many contractors. Even though in-person classes have been canceled for the summer, UAF eCampus is currently facilitating the delivery of 207 online courses to students across the globe. And enrollment is up a full 12% over last year! In addition, faculty are spending the summer updating, upgrading and upscaling the classes they put online now that they can take a breath. Thank you, UAF faculty and staff, and thank you, eCampus. 

So why should students enroll now with all of the uncertainty? Because we know what we know, acknowledge what we don’t know, and we are committed to learning and advancing in changing times. It is because of COVID-19 and because of the state budget uncertainty that I believe now is the best time to join UAF. Now is the time to put your trust in the state’s first university and to come out of this crisis smarter and better prepared for a new economy (or the same economy, only different). 

UAF’s faculty, staff and administrators are working very hard every day to ensure that, regardless of what happens, with COVID-19 or the state budget, we will work with students to navigate this complicated challenge. We fully acknowledge that COVID-19 has many unknowns. We are currently registering students for on-campus housing and have developed plans to protect student health. Sure, external factors could change, but UAF’s Incident Management Team, led by Fire Chief Doug Schrage, is preparing for many different scenarios for everything from the residence halls to our remote research facilities. If we have to change course we will. But for now, everyone is working on scenarios so that we are ready when the time comes. Even our athletics staff is hard at work with the NCAA to determine how UAF’s elite athletes will represent us in competitions around the country. Go Nooks!

We know the COVID-19 pandemic will change, but we don’t know how. That is OK. We know it and we will be ready to adjust. One year ago we were not thinking about COVID-19 at all. But we adjusted, adapted and finished the semester by distance. We even had our 2020 commencement this past weekend, on May 23, online! The fact that almost 8,000 people watched in support of our nearly 1,300 graduates shows that people are as proud of our alumni as we are. Congratulations!

Thanks for choosing UAF. 

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