Thirty regional students recognized at NWC Commencement

Thirty students from the Bering Strait region were honored before a packed house in the Old Saint Joe’s on Thursday, May 5 during the Northwest Campus’ 40th annual Commencement Ceremony. Each of the students receiving certificates or degrees wore the red sash signifying a graduating Alaska Native or Native American.

   Northwest Campus Director Bob Metcalf presided over the event. Throughout the evening he called upon local community members and University of Alaska faculty to act as presenters. Included in the group were Luisa Machuca, chair of the Northwest Campus Advisory Council; Mary David, Executive Vice President, Kawerak Inc.; Lisa Parker, Regent, University of Alaska; Kari Burrell, Vice Chancellor for University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Evon Peter, Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community, and Native Education, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Ron Huffman, Director, Kawerak Adult Basic Education Program; and Dan Thomas, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Health Aide Trainer.

Ian Foster helped lead the audience in the National Anthem and Alaska Flag Song. Paster Brian Crockett presented the invocation.

This was the second commencement for Evon Peter. When introducing the Vice Chancellor, Metcalf said, “I’ve mentioned this before, but the Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education at UAF has an incredibly complex task of trying to integrate rural community and Native education into a Western institution. This is a broad and very profound charge to carry.”

   “I know that you didn’t do it alone,” said Peter as he addressed the graduates and audience. “It’s so wonderful to see this room so filled with family, staff, faculty, administrators, and just supporters of our students from the rural native Alaska communities.  Just by getting to this stage you are setting a tremendous example for others, younger and older, to pursue their education, and continue to support positive growth among our people and communities.”


Bachelor’s Degrees

   The common theme between the five students earning Bachelor's Degrees was to not give up on your dream of getting a four-year degree, even if it takes longer than that.

   Tracey Buie was a full-time student at the University of Oregon for two years after graduating from Nome-Beltz in the late 80’s. She took her time earning her degree in Business Administration. “If you’ve considered whether to quit, or restart your education, continue on, or start again,” she said. “You could be standing up here in three years, or five years, or ten and holding that degree in hand. You can do it, set your mind to it, and you will find a way. It took (me) a while, but I did it, and I hope my story might encourage someone else to do the same.”

   Yvonne Gregg earned her bachelor's degree in Rural development. “Find the degree program you are passionate about, and you feel will help you in your desired field of work,” offered Gregg. “It is important to never give up. If other things in life distract you from school for a while, just remember to go back and finish what you started. Even if it means taking one or two classes at a time, you will be happy with your choice to complete it.”

   Laureli Ivanoff often felt she would forever be working toward the completion of her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, but she never saw herself without it. “I’m a firm believer that each of us is born with a gift, a talent to help this world,” she said. “It’s up to us to explore it, and find that gift, and cultivate it, and use it to make our communities a better place. Thanks to UAF, I was able to find that gift, and thanks to Northwest Campus, I was able to invest in it.”   

   Diane Okleasik took 27 years to complete her bachelor’s degree in Rural Development, Community Research and Indigenous Knowledge. She addressed the audience in Inupiaq explaining that her Native name was Igluguq. In her own language she identified where she grew up, and where she lives now. She told of her parents and husband, and introduced her three sons. In English she stated, “I encourage you to keep trying, even if you have to take classes more than once. If I can do it, you can do it. I am able to graduate thanks to the rural campuses, Northwest Campus and Chukchi Campus in Kotzebue. You can stay here and get your degree.”

The final student to be presented with a bachelor's degree was Darlene Trigg who earned a BBA in Human Resource Management. She said she couldn’t always imagine herself as a college graduate. She found her strength after a lot of people told her she could do it.

“I think now that I have accomplished this one rite of passage, I think to the future, and the many more rites of passage,” said Trigg.  “And in those rites of passage, I want us to remember that there are many rites of passage that, yes are incorporated in this education system that exists here. But there are many other rites of passage that we need to figure out how to acknowledge and bring back to life, and revive, just as many others are reviving other aspects of our culture. Those are just as important as the ones we are accomplishing today.”


Associate Degrees

Seven students were candidates for receiving Associate Degrees. One recipient, Donna Barr, was receiving her Associate of Applied Science, or AAS, in Human Services. She also received a certificate for Rural Human Services. She addressed the audience saying, “Education is learning real life skills to help you be who you are, inside and out. You just have to believe and learn to keep your mind open. We are all capable of learning every day.”

Annie M. Weyiouanna accepted her AAS in Tribal Management. She said her degree has helped prove to herself, and others, that it isn’t too hard for anyone to obtain a degree, you just have to set your mind to it.

Other Associate degree recipients included Rebecca Patapoff Callahan, AAS in Early Childhood Education; Josie Garnie, AAS in Human Services – Addictions Counseling; Cody Martin, AAS Community Health; Denise Michels, Applied Business; and Lucinda Wieler, AA General Studies.



   Dan Thomas presented health aide certificates. “The six health aides here today, who have reached the pinnacle of their training as Community Health Practitioners, have completed four sessions of training, along with working in between,” said Thomas.  “It can take a long time to reach the CHP level.”  He said the certificate achievers also get college credit for their efforts.

“I’ve heard from many other health professionals that health aides have the hardest job as a medical provider in our region,” said Thomas. “They have life and death responsibilities for their patients. They are the first responders, just like an ambulance crew, or a paramedic. They are all by themselves out there. When a call comes in from the hospital, and we need help, it’s going to be at least two or three hours before help is going to get there.”

Tia Katcheak is a third-generation health aide. She said, “Pursuing an education teaches you independence and responsibility. I believe those two are key to living a good and successful life.”

   Community health service also runs in the family of Certified Health Aide Tanya Pelowook, who is a fourth-generation health aide. Pelowook actually became a Community Health Practitioner in 2006, but was unable to attend the commencement due to inclement weather in Wales. In the 10 years it took her to officially receive the certificate, Pelowook has been promoted to Supervisor Instructor. She dreams of returning to school to become a Physician Assistant.

Joining Katcheak and Pelowook in receiving Certificates in Community Health were Sheila Baker, Crystal Fagerstrom, Dolly Kiyutelluk and Brenda Nayokpuk. Karla Nayokpuk and Heather Payenna received Certificates for Rural Human Services.


Occupational Endorsements

   Five Occupational Endorsement recipients were honored at the commencement. “OEs, or Occupational Endorsements, are focused specific training programs that are designed to give students the knowledge and training to be immediately employable,” said Metcalf. “These programs range from nine to 29 credits and are important stepping stones to further certificates and degrees.” He recognized  Norton Sound Health Corporation as an active and progressive partner in providing OEs.

Thomas also presented OEs. He said that NSHC is one of only four health aide training centers in the state. Recipients of an Occupational Endorsement as a Certified Nurse Aide included Amy Charles, Esther Kost, Kirstie Nassuk, Lori Mueller and Lovina Steve.


General Education Diplomas

   Ron Huffman has presided over 14 graduation ceremonies as the director of the Community Education Program. He was able to present a General Education Diploma to Renee J. Ellanna. Accepting in absentia were Brad T. Apassingok, Bethany M. Johnson, Lisa R. Larsen and John G. Fahey. “Successfully passing the new GED is a pretty significant thing,” said Huffman. “They updated the test in 2014, and its not an easy task to achieve the skills and academic standing to get past this GED, so we’re very proud of Renee, and our five graduates.”

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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