Friday Focus: Reasons to celebrate

August 30, 2019

Tori Tragis

UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

Last Saturday, I attended military student orientation in the Wood Center Ballroom and so ended my favorite week of the year. Saturday marked the official end to a well-orchestrated new student orientation. What a wonderful week filled with students, athletes, parents, faculty, staff, and administrators. It was inspiring to be on campus and my heartfelt thanks to Provost Anupma Prakash, Vice Chancellor Champagne, Associate Vice Chancellor Mary Kreta, Director of Admissions Samara Taber, and the many leaders and staff who led and participated in the week’s activities. Special thanks to the Wood Center, Residence Life, the staff of the Graduate School, International Programs, Ginny Kinne and Academic Advising, the Center for Student Engagement, Jackie Morton and the Department of Military and Veterans Services, and Dining Services. Associated Students of UAF (ASUAF) leaders Bernard Aoto and Danny Vaziri were ever present in the activities providing leadership and energy. ASUAF advisor Ronnie Houchin, a veteran of Rev-It-Up was a key resource and activator. If you were not able to participate in the event, please put it on your calendar for next year. David Newman, Sandy Kowalski, and Alex Hirsch put academic induction on their schedule and I heard awesome things about their induction speeches. The student athletes, new Senior Associate Athletic Director Terlynn Olds, coaches and athletics staff all participated in welcoming new students proud to be Nanooks.

In my communications, I focus a great deal on students. We are, after all, a university where students commit their time, talents and treasure to gain a better understanding of the world around them, to obtain a vocation, and to better themselves, their lives and those around them. In a conversation earlier this week, a long-time colleague and friend said, but what about research?

UAF is unique in its research mission. We are still three times more productive in research, on a per faculty basis, than our peers. We are on the cusp of the highest possible ranking among universities in the nation. Agencies have confidence in funding UAF research because of their confidence that UAF can deliver on its promise. Since the 1950s when the GI first started on the UAF campus (originally as a Federal entity), UAF has fulfilled its promise to its research sponsors. Faculty and staff researchers have made UAF a destination because of our unique strengths and our unique position on the globe. But just like everything else, it is not the institution that does research, it is faculty, staff and students whose ideas are crafted into proposals. It is the researcher’s drive and determination, passion, and ingenuity that attracts millions of dollars to UAF and breaks new ground. And it is the research unit leaders like Drs. McCoy, Eicken, Labelle-Hamer, Barnes, Rasmus, Moran, Konar, Holdmann, Reynolds, Schnabel and many others who understand the needs of the researchers and provide them support, inspiration, and the room to run. The role of these leaders in the success of their units cannot be overstated. Although UAF’s research enterprise is a result of 70+ years of evolution, it is our current researchers and their leaders that are breaking new ground today for tomorrow. While I know that it is late nights and long days before any eureka moment, viewed from the outside, UAF’s research enterprise is really something special. 

I received a note earlier this month about the importance of recognizing the work of those whose path with UAF ends. Every year, new people come to UAF and people leave. We are so focused on the work at hand it is easy to miss both life changing events. I would say, though, that it is easier to miss the latter than the former even though it is no less important. Commemorating a departure, however, is as important for the person who left as for the people who were left. Everyone involved needs a chance to recognize that a part of the team is leaving and we are going to miss that work, support and engagement.  We know that we spend more waking hours in a day with our colleagues at work than with our families. Let’s recognize that and value it. Whether it is a student worker, a temp, an adjunct, or a long term employee. They chose UAF to contribute their time and talents. Have an office lunch, or just a 30 minute recognition event. Bring in some cookies or snacks on a person’s last day. If, like an adjunct teacher, there may not be an official last day, invite them in for an office gathering to just say thank you; we appreciated you, your work, and the ways you made us better. We should recognize them for their sake and for ours.   

Lastly, as I look at the dialogue agreements to which I have referred many times, I am looking at the one that says “speak with care for others”. In this time of deadlines, restructures, consolidations, budget and general uncertainty, emotions are very close to the surface. I often look back at my day and see my own opportunities for improvement. Please speak with care for others because they deserve it, you deserve it and we need it.

I hope you will join me at Convocation for a celebration of UAF on September 10, Davis Concert Hall, 1-2 p.m.  Wear your blue and gold!

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.