UAF dance group helps Bond feel at home

August 29, 2018

Leona Long

To Bax Bond, the village where he grew up seemed worlds apart from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Rather than feeling homesick, though, he found a bit of home at UAF with the Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group as the drummer and song leader.

“I think being able to wind down and dance is really important to mental health,” said Bond, who is a drum leader for the group. “Participating in the dance group also helps with student retention and academic performance."

When it came to choose where to go to college, Bond followed in his mother’s footsteps.

UAF photo by JR Ancheta. Mechanical engineering major Bax Bond performs with the Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group during the 2013 Festival of Native Arts.
UAF photo by JR Ancheta. Mechanical engineering major Bax Bond performs with the Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group during the 2013 Festival of Native Arts.

“My mom earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UAF,” said Bond, who is from Tununak, a village of about 250 people on Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. “I was already familiar with UAF, so it helped me with the transition.”

Bond is working on a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UAF. Last May, he graduated with a degree in Yup’ik language.

Coming to UAF wasn’t Bond’s first experience with studying far from home. As a high school junior, he attended the boarding school at Mt. Edgecumbe near Sitka, more than 1,000 miles southeast of Tununak. After high school, he enrolled at UAF.

Bond said getting involved with the Alaska Native programs and student organizations helped him become a part of the campus community.

“It's a very different atmosphere,” he said of the transition from his village to the Fairbanks campus. “In the village, you know everyone and their brother in the village. During my first year at UAF, I felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of strangers.”

It didn’t take long for many of those strangers to become his friends. He said the Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group, a student club that performs many Iñupiaq and Yup'ik songs and dances, helped him feel more at home. He has since become its drum leader. The group has performed at UAF commencement, community gatherings in Fairbanks and the Festival of Native Arts.

“It took awhile for me to come out of my shell,” said Bond, who has served as president of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society for the past three years. “It helped me to have the dance group to go to. It really reminded me of home and made me feel better. I also think that getting out and exploring nature around Fairbanks was helpful too.”

Bond credited the kindness of the Rural Student Services staff for helping him enjoy his UAF journey. The advisors also clarified graduation requirements that differed between catalog years. Bax said his advisor made sure he got the classes he needed and graduated on time.

“The advisors are great,” said Bond. “I’ve been able to have a fairly organized class schedule through their help and research.”

After reflecting on his experiences at UAF, Bond had some words of wisdom for other Alaska Native students.

“Don’t try to go at it alone,” he said. “Going through college and adult life is pretty intimidating when you try to do everything yourself and take on all of the load. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. It could be asking for a ride to campus when your car breaks down.”

Bond said he has watched some friends try to manage their college experiences on their own. Many of them have fallen through the cracks.

“There is no shame in asking for help,” said Bond. “There is no reason to try to prove anything. Everyone wants you to succeed, and there are resources available that help rural and Alaska Native students succeed.”