Student to student: ‘Welcome to APU – where true learning takes place’

Felipe Restrepo Aug 26

Editor’s note: Asked to help welcome students to the start of a new academic year, Felipe Restrepo, ’16, recalls how he adjusted to University life one (snowy) step at a time. 

Restrepo, a native of Medellin, Colombia, is an Environmental Science major with a minor in Outdoor Studies. He dedicated his Convocation speech Aug. 23 to the University’s new students. 

About a year ago, I stood at the terminal at Miami International Airport for a 4,500-mile journey across the United States.

At times, there was doubt, uncertainty, fear and restlessness. I could feel it in my trembling arms and legs. During the 12-hour flight, I tried to anticipate my future. But I couldn’t. I had never seen a snowfall, never known a place colder than 40 degrees. Most of all, I did not know anyone here at APU.  But beyond uncertainty, there was something else: a willingness to step into a future filled with great opportunities. Because in addition to a search for academic challenge, a desire for adventure and outdoor experience brought me here.

Enrolling in APU was a massive change in my life. As I stand here today, I can safely say there has not been one day when I’ve regretted my decision.

Going to college is a privilege that millions of people worldwide never have. That’s way I want to congratulate each of you on your acceptance to Alaska Pacific University and your decision to attend.

You’re at the start of a unique, unforgettable academic and life experience.

Our teachers and mentors are superb research scientists, writers and expedition leaders who are ready to share their insight with any of us. These professors, who are 100 percent committed to their craft, will go out of their way to ensure that their subject matter is clearly understood. Many of them are important explorers, biologists, authors and ecologists who have a clear understanding of what it takes to succeed in their field.

When you have the chance to surround yourself with these kinds of people – to get to know them on a personal level – that’s when true learning takes place.

At APU, our 8-to-1 student-teacher ratio provides us students with a very unique opportunity.

In addition to learning from absolute badass professors, thanks to APU I got the chance this summer to work as a part-time botanist and ecological surveyor through the University’s Environmental Science Department. During the school year, I serve as a campus safety officer and, as residence adviser, I’m among student leaders.

I’ve learned that APU is full of opportunity. I know APU students who’ve  pursued Psychology and Outdoor Studies and are now wilderness therapists. APU Outdoor Studies students have become natural interpreters or park rangers or mountain guides at Denali National Park. Student success stories like these exemplify the University’s emphasis on real-world experience – not only theories and philosophies from books in a classroom.

But putting academics aside, one of the top reasons I’ve chosen to be here is because Alaska is…Alaska.

From rainforests in Southeast to tundra in the North to endless coastline to majestic mountain ranges – like the Chugach, which is the range you see when you look East from campus – Alaska pretty much has it all.

In fact, at 6,640 miles, Alaska’s coastline is more than all of the other states’ coastlines combined.  So if you are here for marine biology, you’ve come to the right place….

About seven months ago, I had to make a decision.

It was about 10 below outside, and it was dark, and I had to go to class.  It was clear that I should stay in bed, lock myself up in my room for the whole week, and cry and complain about the weather and the cold that creeped into my bones no matter how many layers of clothing I wore!

But I didn’t cry and I didn’t complain. I learned to ski. And that was probably one of the most significant choices I’ve made in my life.

And so, when things start to get tough, when it seems as if your world is darkening, I encourage all of you not to stay in bed.

Continue to take a step forward. Because with a positively persevering mindset, you’ll be surprised how far you can go.


Committed to personalized instruction incorporating Alaska as our principal classroom, APU is an accredited liberal arts and sciences university that engages students in applied, project-based learning.