Commencement is April 30. Before the big day, get to know a few members of the Class of 2022.
Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences
Class of 2022
Pansy Alakayak grew up in the world of rural healthcare. Her mom was one of the first Community Health Aide/Practitioners (CHAP) in Southwest Alaska, serving as the frontline of medical service for several villages. When an emergency arose, Pansy often went along to respond.
That foundation spurred her career in healthcare. Pansy became a CHAP too, earning a community health practitioner degree. A recent encounter with CHAP instructor Lucy Bragg, a 2021 APU grad, inspired her to return to school.
From her first call with Admissions, Pansy felt welcome. Conversations were filled with compassion and genuine interest in students. “I’ve never really encountered those emotions in the other universities that I had attended,” she said.
She completed her degree online from Manokotak, often working alongside her three youngest kids who were homebound during the pandemic’s peak. She only came to APU’s campus one time, to drop off her daughter for CHAP training (the program is operated by ANTHC; Pansy’s daughter is the third generation to serve as a frontline health worker in the Southwest Alaska).
Pansy is quick to praise faculty and staff who helped her reach graduation. “What I see in APU is genuine support for the students, regardless of who or where you are,” she said. She even has kind words for GCI, the local internet provider that made the degree possible.
Thanks to APU’s flexible programs, Pansy could advance her health career without leaving her community. And though she’s flying to Anchorage for commencement, she’ll be back to Manokotak soon after. Graduation season in Anchorage is also duck season in Bristol Bay and she’s planning to make the most of both.
Lyreshka “Nikki” Castro-Morales
Bachelor of Marine and Environmental Sciences
Class of 2022
Nikki had never been to Alaska but, within days of arriving at APU, she was already rafting down the Yukon River as part of Expedition Alaska. Originally from Puerto Rico, Nikki wanted a college experience that combined an outdoorsy lifestyle with undergraduate research. After four years in Anchorage, she’s made the most of both.
For her senior project, Nikki worked with Professor Roman Dial to estimate spatial distribution of shrubs in Southcentral Alaska using lidar, a method for calculating distance. A lidar-equipped airplane can determine vegetation height based on how long it takes a laser to reflect back to the airplane sensor. Annual surveys show changes in plant mass over time.
Although Nikki wasn’t flying the plane, she was still very involved in fieldwork. Her project brought her to the Talkeetna Mountains to verify results and she spent 70 days (!!!) camping in the Brooks Range assisting a UAA graduate student on white spruce research.
That Brooks Range opportunity came through connections at APU. “I’ve appreciated the networking that I get from the professors,” she said. Faculty get to know students through small classes and one-on-one conversations. “If you work hard and you do your job, they’ll notice that. There’s a bunch of opportunities that come with it,” she said.
The academic adventure continues this summer. Nikki will work for Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau, then she’s off to Sweden with the Research Experience for Undergraduates program of the National Science Foundation to continue her environmental research in the north.
“I’ve loved it here,” she said of her time at APU.
Master’s of Outdoor and Environmental Education
Class of 2022
Anna moved to Anchorage to work in outreach for the Alaska Zoo. But when the pandemic closed classrooms, she pivoted to APU.
“It was truly the best blessing in what felt like the worst times,” she said. “The program has just been absolutely amazing for me and it’s totally changed my life.”
MSOEE cohorts are often extremely close. During the pandemic winter, Anna’s classmates chose community over comfort, opting to hold class on the Kellogg porch instead of on Zoom (even if it required bundling in sleeping bags and winter coats and making time for occasional moose interruptions).
Every element of the program – from guest speakers to curriculum design – was rooted in the cultures and environment of Alaska, she said. For someone who moved more than a dozen times before APU, that emphasis on place, culture, and community was much appreciated. It also made her a better educator. “The concept of place in APU has given me opportunities I never would have known,” Anna said.
Specifically, it made her stand out on job interviews. She landed a summer gig at Vermont Institute of Natural Science and continued working with them through the school year, designing new signage for an outdoor exhibit as part of her graduate thesis. Her next stop is Jackson Hole, Wyoming where she’ll helm the education program at the Teton Raptor Center. They’re holding the job until she graduates later this month.
Staff from both Vermont and Wyoming tuned into Anna’s thesis defense this month, along with family and friends from around the world. After a social and supportive experience at APU, she’s now entering the close-knit community of environmental education.
“It feels like moving into another extended family,” she said.
Bachelor’s of Business Administration
Bachelor’s of Creative & Professional Writing
Class of 2022
Zoe had one regular semester before the pandemic disrupted everyone’s college experience. Despite the obvious challenges, she still made the most of her time at APU through skiing, writing, and staying involved.
Originally from Wyoming, Zoe transferred to APU in Fall 2019 to join the APU Nordic Ski Center. Most mornings started at ski practice alongside teammates who also loved being outside. Afternoon courses were mostly online during the pandemic, but classmates kept the courses engaging and entertaining. After three years in Anchorage, Zoe is graduating with two bachelor’s degrees: one in business and one in creative writing.
For her senior project, she combined both paths and wrote up a business plan that could guide an author to publication. The project also connected to her involvement with Turnagain Currents, the university’s student-run literary journal. As editor for the past three years, she reviewed the writing of her classmates and coordinated an annual print publication available on campus and around Anchorage. “It’s a great opportunity for the APU community and beyond,” she said of the journal.
For Zoe, APU was the right school despite the challenges. Small classes provided an environment where she could excel. “Personally, I really appreciated that,” she said. Plus, there’s the obvious benefit of skiing and learning in an unmatchable setting like Alaska.
“It’s an amazing place to live,” she said. “I’m very glad I came here.”
Associate Degree in Nursing
Class of 2022
When Cynthia looked for nursing programs, APU stood out. She joined the first cohort of students in 2019 and will be one of the program’s first graduates later this month.
“When I started to look at APU, the thing that really attracted me was their approach to creating a better nurse,” she said. The program emphasized kindness, openness, and awareness, and empowered students to embrace culture in their work. Her classmates came from a variety of backgrounds and there was comfort in not being the only women of color in the room.
She wasn’t the only mother in the group, either. Between a pandemic and parenting, her cohort formed a special bond over the unexpected curveballs of homeschooling kids while pursuing a degree.
Her professors made it all possible. “They embraced every single student and bent over backwards to encourage our success,” she said. “If one of us was falling behind, they moved mountains to make sure we were getting picked up and pushed along to ensure our success.”
When Cynthia graduates this month, she’ll be the first in her family to earn a college degree. Fittingly, several generations will be at Commencement to celebrate, including Cynthia’s mother who moved in to help with the kids while Cynthia finished her classes, completed her clinical rotations, worked as an ER tech, and prepared for her nursing exam.
Faculty and family aside, Cynthia also thanked the university’s donors who made her education possible. No other nursing program offered a comparable scholarship package. “They gave me an opportunity,” she said. “They are changing the trajectory of my life, and they are changing the lives of my children.”
“APU is fantastic and I recommend them to anyone who’s looking for a nursing program,” she said.