Every student has a story

Vice Chancellor, Joe Nelson, reflects on inspiring conversation with UAS student

for the UAS Whalesong
The other day I had the good fortune of visiting with Abigail the Biology major. Abigail is approximately half way done with her degree. She entered UAS in 2012 at the top of her class after earning Alaska’s top scholarships. Her UAS GPA is near perfect, but clearly, she did not “finish in four”.
As an enrollment manager, I was interested in better understanding Abigail’s story, as it relates to her journey at UAS.
Like many local high school students who enter UAS, Abigail came in undeclared and “planned to transfer after completing a year of General Education Requirements”. She did not have a specific academic plan, she was committed to maintaining a good GPA and not going in to debt. She succeeded in staying out of debt and her grades are great, but the path to her degree has been anything but direct. She changed majors a few times.
Now she has over forty credits that do not apply toward her Biology degree.
Two of her best friends from freshman year graduated and moved on, but Abigail does not any regrets about the path she has taken. When I asked her if she had any advice for the freshman in 2017 she said, “Eat healthy. Get outside and exercise every day. Socialize in person regularly.” She also said, “school should come first, but not at the expense of your physical health and well-being.”
During her freshman year, despite living in Banfield Hall with one of UAS’s largest freshman classes ever, Abigail said that, at times, she was lonely. She was not inspired and her academic plan was not resonating, so she took the next year off to volunteer at an orphanage in Ghana.
I am not sure that a year in Ghana is in the cards for every uninspired freshman, but it helped Abigail narrow her field of interest to the health sciences, nursing, in particular. She returned to UAS as a Health Sciences major intent on pursuing a nursing degree. After thirty plus Health Science credits at UAS and some research into schools, she transferred to a nursing program in North Dakota.
Again, Abigail was doing fine academically, but a faculty mentor helped steer her in another direction. Rather than pursue a career in nursing, her plan shifted toward PA (Physician Assistant) credentials.
After a year in Africa and a year in North Dakota, Abigail is back at UAS pursuing a Biology degree with her sights set on graduate programs in a high demand field. She encourages others not to get bogged down in finding the perfect degree program and career plan.
“Employers care more about you completing the degree, less so in what the degree is in,” she said.
So explore a broad range of disciplines early. Engage in the content. Engage with professors and upper class students early. Take advantage of exchange opportunities.
There is a direct correlation between passion and having a sense of purpose.
University life is supposed to provide opportunity for students to find that passion and hone that sense of purpose. Abigail’s path has not been ‘efficient’ in a traditional sense, but every step has been intentional.
The lessons I captured from her story are timeless. Work hard, but take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep well, and exercise every day. Be open to ideas. If you are in school fulltime, school should be your top priority. It is okay not to finish in four years, if you are maintaining a great GPA and not going into debt.

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