Hooper Bay students adjust to city life

Imagine waking up with no real concern for what time it is, no alarm blaring from across the room, no rush to find keys or get to campus in time to find parking. For many of the students who run across campus several times a day, consuming multiple cups of coffee or cans of energy drinks along the way, such a concept is inconceivable.

For a portion of the UAA student population, such a reality is not so far away. With rising energy costs and a failing economy, many rural Alaskans are leaving behind their once tranquil life for the hustle and bustle of the city.

“The time schedule in rural Alaska is more in tune with the rhythm of the day than the ticking of a clock,” said Willy Templeton, UAA director for Native Student Services.

UAA student, Thekla Jones, 22, was born in Hooper Bay and made the move to Anchorage when she was 19. Hooper Bay, located 500 miles west of Anchorage, has a population of approximately 1,100. Thekla followed the example of her older sister, Paula, 27, the first of the four Joe sisters to make the move to Anchorage.

Thekla, now a nursing student, said that when she first moved to Anchorage she had to always be conscious of time. At home it was never necessary to rush.

Moving to the city was about finding opportunity, said Thekla. Hooper Bay was too small, and she wanted to get an education. She said that although she loved Anchorage when she first arrived, moving to a city with approximately 247 times more people was not the easiest transition.

A mother of two, going to school fulltime and working two jobs is not an easy feat, said Thekla. Add the rural-transition, and it’s the making of a superhero.

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Thekla said she expects the same hard work and diligence of her sisters.

“I always yell at them when they say they didn’t go to class. Like even if you’re late you should go,” said Thekla. “I want to strive to help others to succeed. ”

After she finishes her degree, Thekla said she might move back to Hooper Bay if a medical center opens.

Currently, more young people are flocking to Alaska’s urban hubs than there are those returning to their rural homes.

Templeton said he attributes several factors to the increase of students moving from rural Alaska to Anchorage.

“There is an influx from rural Alaska. because of the limited availability of healthcare, jobs and high cost of living,” said Templeton. “The energy costs are going through the ceiling and the food coasts are quite high.”

Templeton said that there are now approximately 1,300 Native students at UAA. With the population at UAA growing, departments within the university are able to offer services for Native students. Schools such as RRANN (Recruitment and Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing), ANSEP (Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program), and ANPsych (Alaska Natives into Psychology) offer recruitment and support services in specialized ways for Native Alaskan and American Indian students on campus.

According to Templeton, the main issue that rural students face is the management of paperwork. Take for instance, getting transcripts sent from high school before the beginning of the fall semester, said Templeton. For urban students it is merely a phone call or an e-mail to have transcripts forwarded to the university. In many rural villages, however, the schools are closed during the summer and do not have the technology to allow students to go online to order their transcripts.

Not getting transcripts sent in time can potentially hold a student back a semester.

In June, Mary Lola Joe, 19, joined her sisters in Anchorage to attend UAA. Mary Lola said that having her sisters in town was a great help.

“It’s nice when I’m homesick to have family around,” said Mary Lola.

In addition to her three sisters, Mary Lola also has cousins, aunts and uncles that all live in the city. Additionally, due to the lack of medical services in rural Alaska communities, Mary Lola said she can count on visits from the rest of her immediate family.

“It is always nice to see people that are from back home and see them here,” said Mary Lola.

A history major at UAA, Mary Lola said she hopes to return to Hooper Bay to teach after she graduates. That is, she said, after she travels the world.