UAF campus

The setting sun illuminates buildings on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. File photo

A new leadership academy is opening at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this fall with the mission of helping students develop leadership skills to inspire change within their communities.

Come fall semester, 15 students will be chosen as the first cohort to participate in the Virgie Dunlap-King Academy for Social Change. The path to the new academy is part of the leadership development series at the university.

“Broadly, they’re designed to build leadership skills in our students,” university spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said. “There’s steps you can take to graduate with leadership honors depending on what things you take.”

Students can earn leadership honors or leadership distinction at UAF a few ways, but they lead back to certification.

The Co-curricular Opportunities for Leadership Development certificate requires students to complete three levels of “prescribed learning outcomes,” according to Heidi Shepard, associate director of the Student Leadership and Involvement Office.

COLD certification is generally done on an individual basis, while the leadership development series offers a “packaged” way to complete the same learning outcomes, according to Shepard.

To graduate with leadership distinction, students must complete either all three levels of the COLD certificate or the first two levels and the academy. Students who complete levels one and two of COLD certification are eligible for leadership honors.

The leadership development series uses the social change model of leadership to work with students on their skills.  

“It’s a theory that’s made up of three parts,” Shepard said. “Part one is leading yourself, the second level or part is leading others and then the third is leading change.”

Two levels of leadership development programs already exist, with the Academy for Social Change becoming the third. The First-Year Leadership Academy is intended for first-year UAF students and tackles the “leading yourself” portion of the model, according to Shepard, while the Nanook Alliance emphasizes further skills and requires students to participate in a campus club.

In line with its name, the Virgie Dunlap-King Academy for Social Change will emphasize leading change, tackled by the third level of the COLD certificate.

Dunlap-King, who died in May last year, founded the African-American Student Leadership Conference, bringing African-American speakers to talk with students in the Fairbanks school district. She was a volunteer and community leader in Fairbanks for over 30 years. Funding for the academy will come from the office of the vice chancellor for student affairs.

“The Academy is important for two reasons,” said Keith Champagne, vice chancellor for student affairs. “One: We want to pay tribute to the legacy and the work and the philosophy and core values of Virgie King. It’s also important, the second reason is, we need to create the next generation of Virgie Kings to address the social issues that affect various populations in our community.”

Champagne has been in Fairbanks for little over a year, but it was enough time to meet King before her death. He said he is grateful to work with her family to honor her legacy.

When he thinks of King, Champagne said he thinks of the likes of Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer.

“When I think of Virgie King, I think of her work in the vein of what these women did: selfless acts to change the world,” he said.

The students will learn to accomplish social change, according to Champagne, through classes, workshops, extra learning opportunities with local organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, internships and service learning projects, among other things.

The goal, he explained, is preparing the students to “work with and lead in a diverse global and interconnected society.”

Nanook Legacy Projects are one example of a project students with the academy will be able to accomplish. Shepard said there will be a lot of discussion of student passions in the academy, as well as what areas they would like to lead in.

“Nanook Legacy is just a way to put that passion into action,” she said.

Past projects of this nature include the development of a food pantry at UAF, campaigns to make campus more accessible and working with Fairbanks nonprofits.

Applications for the academy are being accepted now, according to Shepard. They involve a series of questions about previous leadership experience, as well as what students are involved with outside of the classroom, what they’re hoping to get from their college experience and what kind of social change they’d like to create.

The only requirement for applicants is that they be enrolled at UAF and willing to adhere to the values, philosophies and leadership of Dunlap-King, as well as the social change model, according to Champagne.

Beyond that, he said people are free to apply “regardless of ethnicity, orientation, background or how they arrived at the university.”

Readers wanting to learn more about leadership opportunities at UAF can visit

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7572.