By Rosanne Pagano
Three years after earning his master of arts degree at Alaska Pacific University – and just five years after completing his APU bachelor’s in liberal studies — Jonathon Singler is recalling ways that APU prepared him to graduate with a doctorate in 2023.
“APU is such a unique educational opportunity,” Singler said as he considered steps that took him from Texas to Alaska, guided by a passion for chess as both a career and a calling. Certified as a coach by U.S. Chess and a voting committee board member since 2017, Singler arrived at APU as a 20-something self-described introvert, fearful that his talents lay only in teaching and playing chess.
Things changed fast. He recognized that the university’s small class sizes, emphasis on active learning, and the chance to form meaningful bonds with staff, faculty, and administrators made APU a place where students could shine. He went on to serve as a resident assistant, student government representative, Master of Arts Program teaching assistant, and organizer and coach in 2017 of APU’s U.S. Chess collegiate-affiliated team and citywide program. Under Singler’s leadership, the APU team earned the title of Best Small College at the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship in 2018.
Singler’s love for chess began with a Harry Potter-themed board belonging to a friend; they were in fourth grade. In high school, he and some friends started a chess club with help from the principal, a former high school district champion. “I realized there was something more to the game than just winning or losing,” Singler said. “The shared language of chess bonded us.”
As an APU student, chess continued to form him.
“I like to think of APU as fertile soil for any seed needing nurturing resources,” Singler said, noting that student leadership posts helped him financially while stretching him beyond chess. “APU allowed me to be myself. It prepared me for where I am today.” His dissertation for the education doctorate at Webster University is titled “Human Agency: An Impact Case Study of University Chess Educator Curriculum.” His emphasis is transformative learning in the global community.
Singler’s decision to choose a school after APU was strategic: Based in St. Louis, Mo., Webster is renowned for its nationally-ranked chess team. In 2022, in his role as Webster student and adjunct faculty member, Singler worked with chess professionals and the education department chair to develop a first-of-its-kind minor degree in chess education. Coursework explores chess as a teaching tool, a research interest Singler pursued in MAP with a qualitative study mentored by APU Provost Hilton Hallock.
“I wanted to understand children’s chess-playing experience from their own words and behaviors to help parents, teachers, coaches, and students think about their purpose in spending precious time and money on a game,” Singler said: “MAP was a right fit. It allowed me to explore what I wanted out of my master’s education.”
MAP at APU is designed to accommodate individual projects by offering one-on-one mentoring in research and application courses. Singler’s plans include publishing a book he began as his MAP capstone project. “It all starts with an idea,” he said. “Knowing yourself is the first step to improving the world.”