The University of Alaska Anchorage has had a bad rap among many students. It's a four-year degree-offering university and a community college tied into one that has historically drawn more non-traditional commuters than traditional on-campus students. As more money comes to UAA from the Legislature and more research projects are underway in various disciplines, more of Alaska's top high school students choose UAA first, but they are looking for more than a quality education. They want a school with a pulse. They want a college experience.
Freshman criminal justice major Mark Jackson decided to attend UAA because it was closer to home. “I heard UAA was so boring and really lame,” Jackson said. “But when I got here I see students walking around talking about activities going on and hockey season coming up. People do seem a little more peppy, and it's more alive than I thought it was going to be.”
Ryan Norrid, 22, is a computer science major who used to be a member of the Concert Board and currently heads up the coffee house club, which promotes and produces student music events on campus. He has a bird's-eye view of campus activities from his vantagepoint in the Campus Center.
“There's been a huge infusion of new students living on campus, so it's a lot more convenient for them to get involved. They're starting to care about things and find out what they're interested in the future. In general, there are a lot more activities offered and a lot more people are taking part in campus activities,” Norrid said.
Part of the increase in attendance at UAA comes from an incentive passed by the UA scholars program that gives financial assistance to the top 10 percent of high school seniors to an Alaska school of his or her choice. Some recent activities that have been lucrative due to the increase in student involvement took place during the week of Oct. 8–UAA's second-annual homecoming celebration.
More than 50 people were active in helping plan and initiate various activities on campus that ranged from a school spirit office decorating contest to a homecoming ball at the Captain Cook Hotel. The homecoming ball was student government's second try at an event that attempts to bring students and faculty together during the planning stages and on the dance floor.
“As long as I've been here, this is the most I've seen students get involved. More than 300 people showed up, so the dance floor was packed almost the whole time,” Julie Reloza, a nursing major, who's been here since 1996, said.
Reloza was this year's chairperson for the student homecoming committee that was completely student-driven.
“It's really nice to see people concerned about what's going on, on campus and what's going on in their community,” Reloza said. “The way I see it, this is our school. We pay money towards student fees to have activities, so why not get involved? Why not have a say?”
The homecoming ball was in addition to an abundance of activities already taking place on campus, courtesy of various campus organizations and the Student Activities committee. Tlisa Northcutt is the special events and community relations' director and co-chair of the administration's homecoming committee, and she says she thinks a campus community is developing.
“To become a university of first choice, we need more campus activities like homecoming so people can be proud to attend UAA,” Northcutt said.
“You can walk around campus in the evenings and it's not a ghost town,” Northcutt said. “[Students] are looking for the college experience, so by increasing and having activities, we're going to keep them here and they're going to be glad to come here.”
Northcutt says there are six degrees of separation between just about everyone in Anchorage, and even if they haven't attended UAA, everyone has some affinity with the university.
“Whether it's strong or not is what we have to build,” Northcutt said.
Continued activities throughout homecoming week such as the brick dedication ceremony helped spark further community interest.
“Alumni receptions allow community members and alumni to come back and see the changes made, and [the events] can cultivate them as private financial contributors or as lobbyists to the Legislature for money,” Northcutt said.
“People have been longing for something like this, and I think homecoming has helped fill that void. We're hoping to have something in the spring that will do the same thing,” Northcutt said.
Every spring UAA has a student showcase event where students present their exemplary accomplishments in their academic departments. Northcutt says her office is in a conceptual phase of planning a UAA weekend that would bring community and students together much in the same way homecoming did.
“I definitely think this is the start of something,” Northcutt said. “Once we create camaraderie and attitudes behind UAA, it can only grow.”
What it takes to celebrate:
- Approximately 300 people showed up for the first homecoming dance.
- 7,776 feet of crape paper was used to cover the walls, doors and desks of 44 offices and 4 residents' halls.
- 960 feet of butcher paper and 760 balloons were also used for decorations