By Lynn E. Paulson
After closing as Alaska Methodist University in 1976, our school reopened it’s doors as Alaska Pacific University the following year. In my own experience, if you ask almost anyone who was here at that time to describe Dr. Glen Olds, the man who was serving as APU’s President, you can count on hearing words like “visionary,” or “a man of vision.” Olds’ vision was global in perspective before such a thing was even hip, and in an effort both to increase student enrollments and make APU a “university for the world,” Olds instituted scholarships that were made available to two students from every country. Dr. Ray Clements was instrumental in making that particular vision a reality.
Ray Clements arrived at Alaska Pacific University in 1979 from Washington, D.C. after having served there as the International Student Advisor at George Washington University and as Dean at National Graduate University. On October 14th, I spoke with Ray Clements, now in his 80’s, who was Dean of Students at Alaska Pacific University until 1981. He told me that with the help of Felix Idahosa, a student from Lagos, Nigeria, he brought a group of 30 to 40 students to APU’s campus during those two years from places as distant as Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Hong Kong and Turkey.
“There was culture shock when they arrived,” said Dr. Clements. The students were stunned by all the material goods so easily available to Americans on store shelves, to say nothing of the weather. One student arriving from Africa wondered at the knee-deep “salt” he saw on the ground outside.
But as strange as Alaska, – and America – seemed to them, having so many students on campus who were very far from home created among them a spirit of solidarity, Clements told me, and they came together to bring some of their home to APU, too, with international festivals that included their native dishes, music and dancing.
And during that time – no coincidence – APU also had a kick ass inter-mural soccer team.
Some of these students will be meeting on APU’s campus again for the first time in many years this summer, for a reunion of alumni who attended Alaska Pacific University between 1979 and 1985. Although the event being planned for June 24th to 28th is inclusive of all students who attended APU during those six years, it is these international students who have been the motivating force behind it, including Felix Idahosa, Joel Bulaya, Philip Imboywa, Austin Agho, Richard Oriakhi, Njikonyen Ekeleme and Thomas Jodwalis. They are part of the crowd already beginning to gather on the reunion’s Face Book page.
“Those of us who attended APU for any length of time know what a special place it was,” writes APU alum, Laura Irby, in one Face Book post. She attended Alaska Pacific University between 1980 and 1981. “The diversity of the student population was amazing and gave us all a larger scope of our place in the world … [The] relationships we formed while we were there have stayed with us ever since. This reunion is a chance to come back together, reconnect, and share what we’ve been up to during the past few decades.”
Ray Clements agrees, adding that compared to larger universities, the smaller size of institutions like APU lends itself more easily to “a reverence for the connection you have with people from earlier in your life.” Some of that reverence was inspired in these students by Dr. Clements himself, who told me that he tried to create a family atmosphere for them at Alaska Pacific University while they were here.
“We call him our father,” said Joel Bulaya, one of the reunion planners. Bulaya, who arrived at APU from Congo, gently placed his hand over his heart as he told me this. “APU is our home,” he said.
Dr. Clements succeeded.