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Encouragement, diligence and a desire to make her parents proud help alum earn her APU degree

By Christy Hanson
APU website intern

Ella Tonuchuk, ’11, believes in planning ahead.

Born in Nome and raised in the Bering Sea community of Kotlik, Tonuchuk says she’d always dreamed of a career in teaching. “My original plan was to get educated and return to the village to teach,” she says. “But life has a strange way of shifting.”

First in her family to graduate from college, Tonuchuk attended APU full time for three years and then as a part-time student to earn a BA in elementary education and a minor in psychology.

Today she’s applying her degree not in a classroom but as a leadership development specialist with Anchorage-based First Alaskans Institute, a statewide non-profit.

Tonuchuk says APU’s online and evening classes through the Rural Alaska Native Adult Distance Education program offered encouragement as well as education. She credits APU staff for helping convince her that a degree was within her grasp.

“I was so glad to be part of the RANA program,” said Tonuchuk, recalling ways that the program stayed in touch with students. When RANA staff encouraged her with a well-timed, “you need to finish,” she did. Today RANA is part of APU’s e-learning unit.

Tonuchuk said she grew up knowing that her family relied on each member to work and contribute to the household. At 14, she enrolled in an enrichment program for Alaska Native youth and learned billing and payroll tasks. She kept herself steadily employed.

“From the beginning,” she said, “my goal was to make my parents proud.”

From 2005 to 2012, Tonuchuk worked as a youth development tutor in the Anchorage School District through a federal program for American Indian and Alaska Native students.

But after serving as a First Alaskans Institute public policy fellow in 2011, Tonuchuk found her teaching plans broadening beyond the classroom. FAI offered wider insight into issues involving Alaska Native people, and Tonuchuk realized that her APU education had taught her an important lesson.

“Learning never stops,” she said.

As a First Alaskans leadership development specialist, Tonuchuk helps coordinate efforts involving internships, public policy fellowships and grants supporting cultural programs. She also works with the First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference, held annually as part of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

Each assignment involves education in a way that Tonuchuk says she couldn’t have planned for even as APU helped prepare her.

“I feel very blessed,” she says.

Bio: Christy Hanson is a 2012 graduate of New Mexico State University-Main Campus and an APU summer intern with Anchorage-based First Alaskans Institute.

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