As UAA student Yanelis Torres-Perez heard her name called, her eyes brimmed with tears. Her mother let out a yelp. Torres-Perez walked with poise to the pulpit while her thoughts raced wildly: “That’s my name! That’s me! I won!”
When her AHAINA — which stands for African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, International and Native American — family presented her with the 2012 Woman of Excellence Award, it was pure felicity. Her hard work paid off.
“My mother was bragging. My dad was excited when he found out. It was a great ceremony,” Torres-Perez said.
Amid the excitement, UAA student, Yan Chun “Ryan” Liu, recipient of the 2012 Man of Excellence Award, opted for a more cloaked reaction.
“I thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t think I’d win, but I felt honored,” Liu said.
Beneath Liu’s breezy demeanor is a driven student, accomplished in various aspects of student life — enough to garner recognition and score a tuition waver.
The “Men and Women of Excellence” ceremony is part of the myriad of benefits offered through AHAINA Student Programs.
AHAINA Student Programs falls under the umbrella of UAA’s Multicultural Center and provides minority students with academic, cultural and social support while striving towards success. Liu and Torres-Perez, who once served as president of UAA’s Latino Student Union, are both products of that success.
Elijah A. Thorn, director of the Multicultural Center, came from University of Missouri with 20 years of experience. Like many who move here, he sees Alaska as “uncharted territory” when compared to other states.
“There is a lot of things that currently don’t exist that could be created to make it just a wonderful opportunity for bright students,” Thorn said. “I want to make sure we do our jobs to expose students to those opportunities.”
He stressed that although the program is designed to assist the needs of minority students, all students are encouraged to participate. The program is helpful for students who come from homes where parents do not speak English, where they are first generation college goers or where they come from foreign countries — but students from all walks of life can teach and learn from one another.
Thorn recently established an academic service called Smart Thinking online tutorial program.
“We try to be responsive to students who may want to work on their algebra homework at 2 a.m. while in their pajamas,” Thorn said.
The smart pen tutorial workshop, one of an array of other workshops, still being developed. The office received a few boxes and Thorn feels it is an efficient tool students juggling multiple roles will appreciate.
“We believe there’s a need for students to have their cultures represented through programs here on campus,” Thorn continued. “Linking together with community organizations is really the way to make students see themselves in the overall landscape of UAA.”
Thorn has cast a wide network around town with community organizations such as the Polynesian Association of Alaska and with renowned organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I wouldn’t have been able to start the club without AHAINA,” Ashleigh Gaines, co-founder and president of UAA’s Black Student Union said. Gaines was able to bring Isabel Wilkerson, first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize to UAA as an inspirational speaker through collaboration with them.
“It’s a labor of love,” Thorn said.
For more information on AHAINA or the Multicultural Center, call Director Elijah A. Thorn at 786-4080 or stop by their office, Room 106 in Rasmuson Hall.