We're grateful to have enthusiastic program alumni who sing the Forum's praises. But how often do those same Forum alumni become Forum staff? Surprisingly more than you might imagine!
Currently 5 of our 19 staff members - Carmen Davis, Rayette Sterling, Kari Lovett, Amanda Dale (left to right above), and Kirstie Willean (pictured below) - came to the Forum after having taken part in one or more of our initiatives. This month, we asked each to share an experience from that time that shaped their personal and/or professional life.
in 2001, I traveled to beautiful Scammon Bay as part of the Rose Urban-Rural Youth Exchange. Afterwards, a student from Scammon came and stayed with my family in Anchorage and braved the hallways of Service HS.
As a 15-year-old, I hadn't quite decided how I felt about the world beyond Anchorage. I was nervous about trusting in strangers to look after me for two weeks and I wondered whether I'd be able to communicate in a different culture. After two weeks with my wonderful host parents, Johnny and Darlene Ulak, I came back hungry to experience more of the world, eager to meet more new people, and profoundly affected by the warmth I felt in Scammon.
On my second day I was invited ice fishing, and I couldn't leave the house until my family added so many warm layers that I could barely sit down. ("If you freeze, your mother won't forgive us!") One freezing cold night on the way to a basketball tournament, our traveling party stopped and took off my snow machine helmet so that they could warm my face with their hands. I was constantly handed cups of hot chocolate and bowls of seal oil for dipping (I couldn't get enough). I sang made-up phrases to my two-year-old host sister (now a student at UAF!) until she laughed and cooed. I cried when it was time to leave.
My short time in Scammon Bay introduced me to cultural immersion and experiential learning, two passions that led me to live and work in Japan, Chile, Spain and Denmark. It taught me that the world is full of good people, and that I can seek them out. It gave me the confidence to jump head-first into new countries and cultures. It showed me how to be a welcoming person. It inspired me to pick berries each August and to take a walk outside sometimes, rather than try to cram one more task into a packed day. In Scammon, I first realized that there are hundreds of ways to live, and that I am amazingly lucky to have these chances to learn from others as I make my own path.
I was a 2005 - 2006 Rose Urban Rural Exchange Teacher and led a team from Arlicaq School, Akiak exchange with Chugiak High School in Eagle River.
The Chugiak Teacher was Claire Torgerson and she brought her students to Akiak. My first moment was seeing the community of Akiak open up their hearts and homes and snowmachines to the Eagle River youth. The community had a special energy that week, lots of pride and excitement to share with urban students how life is in the village.
A second memorable event was when Akiak students met in Calista Corporation's Boardroom and enjoyed akutaq with the senior management of THEIR corporation.
The third moment was when Chugiak's Assistant Principal at the time, Patsy Shaha, spent some quality time with our Akiak students, sharing her experience moving from Perryville and adjusting to urban life.
This experience confirmed for me how important it is for urban and rural people to have more opportunities to connect with each other, to see each other as fellow Alaskans, and as human beings. I am happy to have the opportunity to make sure these experiences continue.
I was part of Sister School Exchanges as a rural teacher from Noorvik in 2014 and 2015. I was able to bring my students to Teeland Middle School (Mat Su Valley) and Wendler Middle School (Anchorage).
Spending time outside of the classroom allowed me to connect with my students at a different level. I was able to share my past with my students by showing them where I grew up and introducing them to my parents. I was also able to watch my students and witness the many challenges that rural Alaskans have when adjusting to the urban environment. (Even as I was going through some of these adjustments alongside them!)
I was part of Leadership Anchorage Cohort 17, class of 2014.
Leadership Anchorage has been a transformative experience in my life. It is hard to pinpoint a single moment or experience that led to the transformation. Throughout each session I learned about myself, more about Anchorage, and more about the amazing people in my cohort. Working on the community impact project helped me to understand the work of our project partner, First Alaskans Institute, and created lasting friendships with my team members. I began the program looking for connection to Anchorage and Alaska; I completed the program with new connections, renewed commitment to live my values, and feeling part of a community.
Kirstie Lorelei Willean
My journey with Creating Cultural Competence (C3) began when I participated in the in the 2015 program as an Alaska Statewide Teacher Mentor in the Northwest Arctic region. Five months later I was offered the position of Education Programs Coordinator.
How often are we fortunate enough to love our work and find that it asks of us to incorporate a lifetime of personal and professional experiences? Every day I am thankful for the opportunity to work with all of our Alaska Humanities Forum partners in creating a once in a lifetime cultural learning, immersion experience that benefits teachers new to Alaska and the students they will be teaching.