Friday Focus: Rural campuses and distance education

August 12, 2021

Tori Tragis

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

One aspect that makes UAF such a unique and great place is our rural campuses. Within the College of Community and Rural Development are five rural campuses located in Nome, Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue and the Interior, as well as learning centers in Fort Yukon, Tok, Unalakleet, Unalaska and Unalakleet. Our reach is significant and so is our impact. 

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit our Northwest Campus in Nome with a delegation that included the CRCD dean, the interim vice chancellor for research, the UA director of federal relations and the UA director of state relations.

Representatives from UAF met with Teller's mayor, Blanche Okbaok-Garnie, third from left, in July 2021. Photo by Gay Sheffield.
Representatives from UAF met with Teller's mayor, Blanche Okbaok-Garnie, third from left, in July 2021. Photo by Gay Sheffield.

During this visit, we met with municipal leadership in Nome and Teller, listened to presentations on climate change impacts in the Bering Sea, and engaged in a cultural immersion experience for new teachers at a camp along the Niukluk River. The new-teacher orientation has been offered annually for over 10 years through a partnership between the Northwest Campus and local school districts with support from Kawarek, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and the Sitnasuak Native Corp. Such successful collaborations are demonstrative of the critical role that rural campuses play in helping to meet local and regional community development needs. 

I also recently had the experience of participating in a boat trip to four villages along the Yukon River and was immensely proud to witness many current students and alumni of UAF utilizing their education in service to their communities. UAF’s commitment to distance education has helped those students and others deliver access to education regardless of where they live. I often think about my mother and others of her generation who had little choice but to leave their villages to obtain a high school education, much less a postsecondary education. I am a product of her experience but also of changing times where the existence of rural campuses and distance education programs make it possible for more students to pursue their educational goals without having to relocate. 

I know first-hand what a difference education has made in my own life and the positive ripple effect that it has had on my family and community. As an academic leader at UAF, I am immensely proud of our rural campuses and the many distance education programs that extend the reach of the University into homes all across Alaska. 

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