When Desirae Roehl moved to Anchorage from King Cove in the Aleutians in 2008, she was looking for new opportunities.
She had had a job at her tribal office doing environmental outreach — a role that had her crafting a recycling program, doing assessments, and educating the community on environmental causes — that she enjoyed. But she wanted something more.
Soon after moving, she landed a job at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) as a program manager with environmental health, a position similar in function to the one she had maintained back home. It wasn’t long until she heard about LEAD, a leadership development program that piqued her interest.
“Different modules were taught by adjunct professors at APU, which was what got me interested,” Roehl said. “I had been thinking about going to school for a while and I saw that as a gateway.”
So she enrolled in the five module program, which turned out to be an appetizer for many more courses.
Jumpstarted with the credits she earned from LEAD, she was able quickly hammer out a full Associate’s Degree in Business Administration.
Because many of the classes for that degree were online, Roehl said she often found herself attending classes in her kitchen, with one hand working on assignments and the other cooking dinner for her two children.
“I got really good at multitasking during that time,” Roehl joked.
But at the completion of her degree, Roehl found herself at a crossroads; should she continue on to a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration or pursue something more specific to her environmental field?
“Ultimately, I selected Sustainability Studies, because it allowed me to craft my degree to my areas of interest in my field,” Roehl said. “My studies, for the most part, aligned with what I was doing at my real job. I wasn’t just going to school to get through classes; what I was learning I was able to immediately put to action in the workforce.”
Because more of the Sustainability Studies classes were on campus, Roehl had to flex her schedule at ANTHC so that she could still fulfill her 40-hour work week and take a full course load of credits.
“It was an incredibly challenging time,” Roehl said. “I was a full-time student, full-time employee, and full-time parent. But I felt strongly that everything I was doing was important work.”
She graduated with her Sustainability Studies degree in 2015, but her hunger for more was insatiable. By then, she’d come to the conclusion that she liked business nearly as much as the environmental field and decided to apply for the Alaska Native Executive Leadership Program (ANELP), a graduate certificate linked to the Executive MBA program. Because of her prior strong grades, her employer selected her and just two other employees to sponsor for the program, which she finished in May. This spring, she’ll continue on with the MBA program.
“I feel like I’ve been just continually going to school,” she joked.
Since starting at APU, Roehl has gone from program manager at ANTHC to senior program manager, a role that has her overseeing staff and projects and managing grants and budgets. She also sits on the Culture Committee, a group that raises cultural awareness across the state by hosting events and fundraisers that benefit the community and occasionally she’ll also don the hat of acting director of her department.
“Having those classes and those degrees has opened so many new doors for me,” Roehl said. “It’s positioned me so that opportunities for advancement are more likely and more within reach.”