UAA Homecoming Breakfast

On Oct. 9, more than 140 UAA graduates joined the Homecoming Breakfast from across the country to reconnect with their university and to honor the achievements of this year’s four Alumni of Achievement. In just one hour, the gathered alumni raised over $16,000 in donations, sponsorships and gift matches to benefit UAA programs and scholarships, all before 9 a.m.

Typically a ticketed event taking place at the Alaska Airlines Center — which is currently a coronavirus medical facility — this year’s Homecoming Breakfast made the familiar transition to an online event. Thanks to sponsorships from R&M Consultants, Neeser Construction, ATS Alaska, Northrim Bank and 2Core Films, the event was open to the entirety of Seawolf Nation.

Despite the change, the early morning alumni celebration featured many of the hallmarks of an in-person Homecoming Breakfast, including a performance of the alma mater by the UAA Glee Club, an address from Chancellor Cathy Sandeen and messages of thanks and encouragement from the university’s community partners.

This year, the UAA Alumni Association was thrilled to welcome keynote speaker and alumnus Ragu Bhargava, B.B.A. Accounting ‘88, to share his story of success through philanthropy. Bhargava is the CEO and co-founder of Global Upside, Inc. An experienced, award-winning entrepreneur and executive, he has helped clients successfully navigate some of the world’s trickiest business environments.

Laurie Fagnani Portrait

Alumni of Achievement
Laurie Fagnani, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications ‘86
Founder and President, MSI Communications

Touring MSI Communications’ trendy office in downtown Anchorage can feel like visiting a tech startup new to Alaska. But the current space is a far cry away from their first home. Founded in 1995 by Laurie Fagnani after the birth of her daughter, MSI started as a home business so Fagnani could pick up the occasional contract without having to go back to work full time.

It didn’t take long for Fagnani to continue expanding her family and her business. Around the same time she had her second child, a son, MSI got its second employee: Fagnani’s sister. The siblings acquired a few more contracts and moved into an actual office.

Fagnani credits her UAA degree — which included an emphasis in advertising and a minor in business marketing — for helping her take MSI to the next level.

“My dual degree really set me up for success. I cannot tell you how much I rely on those disciplines,” said Fagnani. “Just because a person is good at advertising doesn’t mean they are really great at running a business. Running a business is a much different set of skills than making great ads. The dual degree allows me to have at least academic training in both areas.”

In the years since Fagnani decided to make that leap, MSI has successfully positioned itself as the go-to agency for Alaska’s resource industry. In order to best serve their clients, she stresses the need to bring in people who have an intuitive understanding of those industries.

“Some of the key drivers of our economy — oil and gas, tourism, transportation, mining, Native corporations — that’s our niche,” said Fagnani. “What we have found is when somebody grows up in Alaska and attends the university, they have a much keener sense of those industries and markets. It’s why their resumes get put to the top of the stack. They have a leg up from other applicants because they understand the cultural differences and economic drivers. For example, we don’t have to teach them how to say Utqiagvik.”

Of the 18 people who work at MSI, one-fourth of them have a UAA connection — four alums and one adjunct professor — a point that Fagnani takes great pride in. In addition to hiring from UAA, Fagnani credits the implementation of a senior management team with specialties that complement her own as integral to MSI’s growth in recent years. Having that senior team also allows her to focus on the aspects she loves most about running her business.

Leverette Hoover Portrait

Alumni of Achievement
Leverette Hoover, B.S. Technology ‘97
National Operations Manager, Siemens

UAA’s Alumni Association will always be indebted to its earliest members, which include Leverette Hoover, who was originally brought in to participate in a focus group to discuss continued engagement with the university.

Before the Alumni Association, Hoover found many ways to stay connected with his alma mater, particularly with the College of Engineering as a mentor for students and employer of graduates. He is able to serve in these capacities through his more than 20-year career with Siemens, most recently culminating in his promotion to national operations manager for the Midwest and Pacific zones in March 2020.

Originally from Chesaning, Michigan, Hoover and his wife came to Alaska after being stationed here through the Air Force as an air traffic control radar maintenance technician for eight years. After his honorable discharge, Hoover continued to give back to veteran organizations, including Wounded Heroes, Wreaths Across America, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and was appointed to the U.S. National ESGR board of directors. Due to his work with veterans, he was appointed honorary commander for the 176th Alaska Air National Guard Wing.

While stationed in Alaska, Hoover began taking classes on Shemya Air Force Base in the Aleutian Islands before relocating to the main Anchorage campus.

“I was that older, nontraditional student, which even today is important for UAA,” he said. “A lot of classes I was in, half was nontraditional and the other half was more typical, and there was a lot of mentoring going on from the older generations. For me, it was a great opportunity to start that coaching and mentoring that helped me become a good supervisor over the years.”

Hoover’s contributions to engineering education and veteran organizations are more impressive after taking into account his wider involvement with the community, which include receiving the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce’s Top Forty Under 40, Gold Pan Award winner for community service, past chairman of the Anchorage School District School Business Partner board of directors and high school football coach, just to name a few.

“It’s important to be that strong business partner in the community because the community gives so much to us as a business,” said Hoover. “Even if I didn’t have a business that supports me, I would still do that. My parents set that foundation. They were always involved in the community and taught me to give back because you never know when you have to depend on them to support you. You take care of your community and the community will take care of you.”

Ghazal Ringler Portrait

Alumni Humanitarian
Ghazal Ringler, B.S. Biological Sciences ‘01
Chief Dental Officer, Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center

When you book a dentist appointment with Dr. Ghazal Ringler, chief dental officer at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center (ANHC), chances are you’re getting the complete package.

Dr. Ringler is a strong advocate for a holistic approach to health care. Measuring blood sugar and blood pressure is routine for her dental patients, and she’ll regularly collaborate with other doctors at ANHC — where a sliding fee discount is offered based on income — to ensure that any and all of a patient’s health care needs are met.

“If you have a car, you don’t just fill it up with gas, but also change the oil and do maintenance. You have to take care of the whole car,” said Dr. Ringler. “Your body is the same way. You eat through your mouth, you taste through it, you absorb nutrients through it. If you are not able to do any of that, how are you going to take care of your body? Any neglect that goes toward the mouth reflects in your body, and that should be part of health care, it is all connected.”

That comprehensive approach extends to the wider community. By collaborating with other volunteer providers as president of the Alaska Academy of General Dentistry and as a member of the Alaska Dental Society and American Dental Association, Dr. Ringler ensures that Alaskans without insurance or living in underserved areas have access to dental care.

Before becoming a dentist, Dr. Ringler moved to Alaska from Tehran in April 1995 with only $200 in her pocket. In the five months between arriving and starting at UAA, she worked two jobs while learning English by watching soap operas.

After earning her Doctor of Dental Medicine from Oregon Health and Science University in 2006, Dr. Ringler returned to Alaska to practice at Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel for four years. During that time, she traveled to 56 surrounding villages to provide dental care, often sleeping on the floor or on exam tables at the local clinics.

“My whole life was built here in Alaska and my dreams came through here, and I feel Alaska and Alaskan people have given me an opportunity and now it’s my time to give back,” she said.

Knowing she’s helping her community is its own reward for Dr. Ringler, but the smiles from each patient are an added bonus.

Reem Sheikh Portrait

Alumni Emerging Leader
Reem Sheikh, B.S. Biological Sciences ‘07
Podiatric Surgeon and Attending Faculty, New York College of Podiatric Medicine

For some, it can feel like ages have passed within the span of this summer alone, such that recalling the first months of the year can be a blur. But Dr. Reem Sheikh remembers those early days well.

As a podiatric surgeon at multiple New York City hospitals and surgery faculty at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, Dr. Sheikh experienced firsthand how the shortages of life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) impacted medical professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak. As she watched her residents and colleagues keep pace with the growing pandemic, even through PPE shortages, Dr. Sheikh put out a call for help on social media.

CBS News saw Dr. Sheikh’s message and conducted an interview, which caught the attention of even more people who wanted to contribute. To manage the increase of goodwill, she partnered with four members from her Facebook group who continued fundraising, vetting PPE vendors and managing public relations. Since her initial request, Dr. Sheikh received over $18,000 to order PPE for her surgical residents, colleagues and staff in various hospital departments.

“People are homebound, but they want to help those fighting on the front lines,” said Dr. Sheikh. “I’m so humbled by the response we received. I started by saying, ‘Is there a pair of goggles for me and my people?’ And it galvanized the community and brought an avenue to help. It really has been a tremendous effort and would not have been possible without the support of my mom volunteers. Moms get things done.”

Despite PPE shortages among health care workers having been resolved and the number of COVID-19 cases in NYC leveling out in the following months, Dr. Sheikh continues to coordinate the outpouring of thousands of PPE donations — no longer just to NYC medical facilities, but to schools, religious facilities and minority communities across the country and home in Alaska.

“If an opportunity comes your way, don’t hesitate to step up, and speak up because we are all in this together,” said Dr. Sheikh. “At the end of the day, all credit goes to my son who is two and a half. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be on these mommy groups and this campaign would not have been this grand. Because what do moms do? They talk to each other to figure stuff out.”