New Semester, New Chancellor and A Chance For Fresh Starts

For more than 25 years, Sean Parnell has led a life of public service, from his roles in Alaska government as the state’s lieutenant governor and governor, and as an attorney. The son of a small business owner father and high school teacher mother, his parents instilled in him the value of education and leading one’s life to serve the public good.

Parnell’s family moved to Anchorage in 1973 when he was 10, and after graduating from East High School in 1980, Parnell attended Pacific Lutheran University. He earned his B.B.A. before attending law school and earning his J.D. from the University of Puget Sound (now known as Seattle University School of Law).

In his early twenties, when Parnell was at a crossroads in his life and considering law school, his father handed him some of the simplest but perhaps most profound life advice he’s ever received — advice that he’s now passed onto his two daughters and to anyone, regardless of their age.

“You don’t have to choose one major as if it will be the only career path,” said Parnell. “Don’t feel like because you’re making a choice, that you’re stuck with it. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll still have the education and those skills you learned to take with you on your path and the great work they do.”

He’s carried his father’s advice with him throughout his private and public sector career as an attorney and in politics, and it’s what he’s taking with him in his new role as UAA chancellor.

If there’s anything Parnell has learned throughout his career, it’s how to pivot and transition, not just for himself but also for large organizations. He said he is inspired by the transformative work already being done at UAA, from the world-class faculty teaching and conducting cutting-edge research to the opportunities students are afforded through campus life, community partnerships and undergraduate research.

It’s what inspired him to helm the state’s largest university. He said UAA’s students, staff and faculty’s resilience is inspiring and is hopeful for the university’s future. He has spent much of the fall semester listening to students, faculty and staff on the university’s main campus and traveling to UAA’s community campuses throughout Southcentral. Parnell said he is committed to upholding UAA’s mission of keeping students first. He said he will continue to champion and create educational pathways, whether it is ensuring students have hands-on learning opportunities, access to undergraduate research or the ability to utilize cutting-edge technology.

“As a leader, it’s your job to create opportunities for people,” Parnell said. “It’s my role to help shine a light on others.” In addition to his commitment to students, Parnell said he, along with university leadership, will continue to listen and engage Alaska’s industries to ensure UAA’s degree and certification programs are valuable and connect students directly to job and career opportunities once they graduate.

He said creating opportunities like the university’s new suite of Fast Track Certificates is an excellent example of how the university fulfills a local need to help people in the community get back on track and into the workforce.

He hopes that his contribution will help lead UAA to attain its vision as a university of distinction. Parnell is committed to working with leadership both within the university and in the community to ensure that UAA is always a place where students can learn and master the skills needed to define and create their future.

“People come to universities to make their lives better,” Parnell said. “UAA is a place where people’s lives can change. It’s a place where people can grow, learn and create a path for themselves.”