Welcome to those of you who are new, and welcome to everyone at APU.
I’m Dr. Esther Beth Sullivan, named after my two grandmothers – Esther and Beth. It’s a long story, but I have almost always gone by ‘Beth.’
I grew up in Montana, the oldest of four kids; my parents were both teachers. When I went to college (the first time), I chose a very small liberal arts school in Billings, Montana. At the time, there was a grand total of 300 students at that school. As small as it was, my college was nevertheless huge in its ambition for its students. I studied everything under the sun—falling in love with every subject – to the extent that I ended up with way more credits than I needed to graduate, finally with a degree in Education.
Back then, my goal was to eventually earn five Ph.D.s, become a professor, and stay in college for the rest of my life—preferably at a small school just like my alma mater.
So, here I am, after 40 years – indeed, in college for life – most days, feeling like I’ve won the lottery to be working at a school like APU.
For those of you starting (or starting again) on your undergraduate degrees: you may be majoring in anything from Alaska Native Governance to Outdoor studies, from Marine biology to Creative Writing or Business.
Across all of these programs, we weave into your studies what we call Essential Competencies – skills, knowledge, and capacities that are grown throughout your programs – and that go with you in life, no matter what you choose to do.
These competencies are:
- Effective Communication – developing the ability to create content, collaborate, teach others, and share ideas
- Critical Thinking – developing the ability to assess information and truth claims to inform decisions and judgements
- Cultural & Historical Perspective – developing the ability to appreciate context – to honor the diversity of cultures and traditions, particularly those of Alaska Native peoples
- Scientific Inquiry – developing a scientific mindset – identifying methods that lead to new knowledge and dissemination of what we know
- Ethical Engagement – developing personal and social responsibility and accountability to our communities
These are our objectives for you. Our approach is that of ‘active, experiential, applied, engaged learning.’
‘Active’ not just in the sense that you are moving around or in the field. Rather ‘active,’ in the sense that you grow the skills and confidence to actively and entrepreneurially apply what you learn here to challenges and opportunities that we all face elsewhere in the world.
Because we focus on transferable competencies—developed with the aim that you would apply those skills with expertise, experience, and determination – it has been said of APU that you not only walk away from here with a transcript, you graduate with a resume.
So, my advice to you:
We hear a lot about the cost of higher education – which is no small worry to you or us. I would, though, argue that the greatest cost and investment you will be making here is with your time. You can get or earn money back; you can’t get time back.
It is really, really important to make the most of your time.
I’m a theater historian, who can’t act. I teach public speaking, and I’m often terrorized to give speeches. I’m tremendously skeptical about public pledges, but I also know that I work hard to keep the promises I make. To make the most of time, I often pledge to myself a goal . . . for the day.
I won’t make you stand and take a pledge today – but I offer this possible pledge as a goal, and for thought.
Honoring this place of higher education, this place of the Dena’ina people. Honoring those who have come before, and will come after. I promise to myself and those who care about me. And to faculty, staff, and fellow students — to work hard, stick with it, ask questions, learn as much as I can each day and to stay open to the transformative power of education.
As a member of this amazing community, serving as your Academic Dean, and a person fortunate enough to have become a student for life—that’s my promise to myself and you today.
With that, as my mom and dad would often say to me – do good in school, it’s worth it.