Early in 2019, Mayors Bryce Ward, Jim Matherly and Michael Welch proclaimed every Friday in Fairbanks to be Blue and Gold Day. In their resolution, the mayors “encourage all residents to recognize the positive impact of UAF in our community and to personally support our UAF by wearing blue and gold on Fridays.” Thanks, mayors!
In October of 2019, Livability.com ranked Fairbanks among the top 10 college towns in America. Although the University of Alaska Fairbanks regularly receives top national rankings in areas of research productivity, academic quality, affordability, and campus life, the neat thing about the Livability.com ranking is that it is not about UAF; rather, it is about all of us: Fairbanks and Fairbanksans. And I think of Fairbanks in the broadest sense to include College, Ester, Fox, North Pole, Upper Goldstream Valley, Lower Goldstream Valley and Fort Wainwright. Healy, Delta, Chatanika, Eielson and Nenana also count in my book.
Fairbanks is a rich town and Interior Alaska is a rich region. Rich with gold miners, fur trappers, and the military. Endowed with culture and education.
Gifted with the symphony orchestra, live theater, arts, and public broadcasting. We also benefit from excellent museums, libraries and intercollegiate athletics. Community banks underwrite our financial infrastructure, and our local Foundation Health Partners supports our wellness. Locally owned design and construction companies have built many of the buildings and homes we work and live in.
Livability.com cited the fact that Fairbanksans stick together as a primary reason for our high ranking. Why? Perhaps it is because Fairbanks attracts those with a bent for sticking together; perhaps it is the place that makes us this way. Perhaps it is the very independence of those who sought Fairbanks out that results in our community’s interconnectedness. It may be rooted in the way that the Lower Tanana Dene people stuck together to make a living for generations near the confluence of the Chena and Tanana rivers.
While we stick together, Fairbanksans are not all the same. We sometimes see the ideological differences play out in public meetings and on social media. But the diversity in our people and each of their perspectives adds value. Diversity ads richness and Fairbanks has both. UAF plays a key part in the diverse environment that is America’s fourth-best college town. UAF’s doors are open to all. All personalities, genders, cultures and ethnicities. As we like to say, you belong at UAF.
Many at UAF began their lives in Fairbanks. Others came from villages, towns and cities across the state. A look at the map of UAF students’ hometowns and you will find that they have come from across the world to study or conduct research at UAF. The same goes for our faculty and staff. Although many are second- and third-generation Fairbanksans, you will find people here from everywhere.
UAF is also diverse in our structure. UAF is a world-class research university with a globally important role in understanding our current and future environment. We are a community college that provides the training needs of our welders, mechanics, and chefs.
UAF is also our rural campuses, playing an important role in the communities of Dillingham, Bethel, Nome and Kotzebue. These campuses are regionally important and a lifeline for many. This diversity cannot be found in any other university that I know.
Fairbanks, like UAF, is big enough to provide abundant opportunity but also small enough that people stick together. Thank you for sticking with us, Fairbanks. Thanks for choosing UAF. And thanks for wearing blue and gold on Fridays.
As I look across UAF and the greater Fairbanks area, I’d say that Livability got it right.
Daniel M. White has served as University of Alaska Fairbanks chancellor since July 2017.