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Community perspective

Tell governor to save the University of Alaska

Alaska is at a critical point as the Legislature and governor decide what Alaska’s fiscal priorities will be, with many decisions carrying long-term implications for our children and the state as a whole.

Simply put, the budget that was recently sent to the governor and his decisions regarding funding priorities have the potential to impact Alaskans across the state for years.

Our educational system and higher education must be a priority.

As a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, with a degree in journalism and public communications, I’ve gone on to secure my master’s degree and am working on my doctorate. The degree I received at UAA and the opportunities I’ve earned would not have been possible without that first diploma.

I am pursuing higher education for myself and my family. For my five children. For my husband. For our community. To show other young Alaska Natives that education is power and allows you to give back to the community in meaningful and rewarding ways.

As a Yup’ik and Inupiaq woman, I recognize the importance of access to a quality, affordable education. In fact, many of my friends access higher education through regional campuses or UA online learning programs.

My decision to return to higher education was driven by many factors, but key factors are accessibility and affordability.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but there are many young Alaskans out there who cannot afford to attend college outside the state. The truth is if the University of Alaska was not an option for them, or their degree program was not available here, they might not pursue a degree. And that would be tragic for both the state and the individual facing that choice.

With my degree from UAA and the internships I was fortunate to receive, I learned the ropes about public relations and communication in a hands-on and effective fashion.

My degree led me to a series of rewarding jobs, including sustainability director at First Alaskans Institute and my current position as director of business and economic development at Tlingit and Haida in Juneau.

In this position, I help launch initiatives that provide jobs and economic opportunity for our people. The knowledge I acquired in college allows me to build strong programs and pass on skills and knowledge to others. Higher education has been invaluable to my work performance and personal satisfaction.

The last time the University of Alaska’s budget was dramatically cut, in the 1980s, it took decades to recover. We certainly don’t want that to happen again. I would urge our governor to keep the university budget intact. Like more than 40 of our legislators and key state officials, the governor himself received his master’s degree from UAF, and his family has attended college in the university system as well.

Now is the time for Alaskans to stand up and express their views on what our priorities are. Where we believe Alaska should be headed in the future. And what we want for our children and grandchildren. I believe a strong local university system is a priority.

I would not be where I am today without higher education and am a strong supporter of the University of Alaska. Join me and let the governor know you stand behind the university and are UA strong.

Emily Edenshaw is director of business and economic development for Tlingit and Haida in Juneau. She is the granddaughter of John and Cecilia Sipary and the great-granddaughter of Axel and Pearlile Johnson. Axel Johnson was the first president of Calista Corporation, an Alaska Native regional corporation.

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