UAA Alumni Spirit Fall/Winter 2022

UAA Alumni Spirit Fall/Winter 2022 Cover
UAA Alumni Spirit logo
Fall/Winter 2022 Issue 18
Collage of images from the University of Alaska Anchorage from a graduate, security officers, athletics and students.


UAA Alumni Spirit Fall/Winter 2022 ISSUE 18


  1. Despite the growth of the legal recreational cannabis industry, navigating its regulatory landscape can still be confusing. Journalism alumna and culinary arts assistant professor Riza Brown hopes to provide clarity through a new cannabis information course at UAA.
  2. Anchorage’s new Mobile Crisis Team — which includes psychology alumna Jennifer Pierce and fire service administration alumnus Michael Riley — responds specifically to mental health emergencies, saving traditional first responders crucial time and resources.
  3. It can be easy not to think about the thousands of people involved behind the scenes in every Amazon purchase. But for journalism alumnus and Amazon communications manager Todd Walker, thinking about those unseen workers is his prime deliverable.
  4. Meta/Facebook has been working to bridge the gap between athletics and technology for the past nine years, tapping into sociology alumnus Brandon Walker’s experience as a professional athlete to help those efforts as their strategic partnerships lead for basketball.
  5. Months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Jim Bowers established the Ukrainian Student Support Fund. Bowers’ history of educational philanthropy is predated only by his familial background in education, which includes his wife, education alumna and lifelong teacher Cheryl Childers.
  6. Erin Hicks, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been studying supermassive black holes and their relationship to galaxies. With the James Webb Space Telescope launch, she is one step closer to unlocking their confounding mystery.
  7. It’s no secret that students today face more considerable financial barriers compared to previous generations. The good news is since 2019, tuition at universities have stagnated, including at UAA, where a number of new tuition benefits have been made available to students.
  8. UAA’s largest alumni tradition returned after two years of virtual celebrations. Nearly 400 graduates gathered at the Alaska Airlines Center to hear from keynote speaker and journalism alumna Lauren Magiera and raise over $20K to benefit UAA programs and scholarships.


Computer science senior Vadim Egorov demonstrates a Microsoft HoloLens 2 augmented reality headset. UAA’s College of Engineering and College of Business and Public Policy have partnered on the brand new Alaska Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (ADSAIL), where students in both colleges will explore potential real-world applications for augmented and virtual reality in Alaska’s educational, industrial and business environments.

From the Editor

For those of us who spend our time being extremely online, a common meme jokes that time never actually continued past 2020, that December 2022 is just the 36th month of 2020 via some weird limbo that brought us — well, you don’t need a recap on everything that’s happened these last few years.

That Groundhog Day effect can be seen in the last few years of Spirit magazine, with issues themed reactionarily around preparedness, gratitude and recovery. More recent issues have begun peeking ahead at what’s next and a new day. But for this issue, I want to go further, to be future forward.

So for this issue of Spirit, we’ve spoken to UAA alumni leading the charge in some of the world’s trailblazing companies and industries, like sociology alumnus Brandon Walker and journalism alumnus Todd Walker (no relation), who work at Meta (formerly Facebook) and Amazon, respectively.


From An Alumnus

We are not defined by our past or the future self we plan to be. We are not our worst mistakes, nor are we our greatest triumphs. We are defined by how we show up in the world every day: by endeavors we devote our energy and efforts to, by the intention we bring to each moment and by the remnants of our interactions with all things in the world.

My wife, Karin, and I spent the last six years living in central Texas. I had the opportunity to work for SpaceX, and I loved my time there. Working at a rocket test facility opened my eyes to an amazing suite of technologies, an incredible group of people and experiences I will never forget. From watching rocket engine tests almost every day, watching two rocket launches in Florida and watching astronauts return to the space station from U.S. soil on rockets I helped test. These experiences could not temper our desire to be back home in Alaska.


If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that Seawolves are resilient. We kicked off the fall semester by welcoming students, faculty, staff and alumni back to UAA for some great in-person events like Campus Kickoff, Homecoming and bringing hockey and gymnastics back to campus. It’s been a great beginning to the academic year, and I am excited to see what the spring semester will bring.

Looking forward, we are moving past the challenges the pandemic brought, and I am happy to announce that enrollment is up across four of our six campuses. In addition to increased enrollment, we are keeping UAA affordable with a tuition freeze for the fall ’23 semester. We also rolled out many tuition benefits for students taking in-person and online classes.

Cannabis course aims to cultivate budding marijuana industry

In 2014, Alaska became the fourth state in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis use after Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Since then, more than 150 retail cannabis stores have opened in Alaska and remain operating. But despite this growth, navigating the cannabis regulatory landscape can feel like trekking through the precarious Wild West.

UAA alumna and culinary arts assistant professor Riza Brown, A.A.S. Culinary Arts ’11, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications ’11, hopes to provide clarity amid the haze through a new class at UAA: CannaBasics: An Introduction to Culinary Cannabis, which debuted fall 2022.

While no actual marijuana is handled in the class, CannaBasics provides a comprehensive, primarily theoretical overview of all things cannabis during six three-hour sessions. Topics covered include everything from plant anatomy, manufacturing equipment and appropriate dosing to sales, history and laws. But most importantly, the course emphasizes safety.

Driving the future of mental health response

Dial 911, and the responding dispatcher might send one of three options: a police officer, a firefighter or an EMT. But what if no crime has been committed, no laws broken? What if there’s no actual burning building, just the feeling that everything is on fire? What if the medical emergency isn’t of the body but the mind?

Enter a fourth option: Anchorage’s Mobile Crisis Team (MCT), arriving not in a police cruiser, firetruck or ambulance, but in an inconspicuous SUV. Launched in the summer of 2021 and housed within the Anchorage Fire Department (AFD), MCT responds specifically to mental health emergency calls, such as suicidal ideations, schizophrenic or bipolar episodes, and even feelings of grief or loss.

Funded by roughly $1.5 million generated from a 2020 alcohol tax in Anchorage, MCT includes two units operating 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Each unit comprises a licensed clinician and a paramedic. The earliest of these units consists of clinician Jennifer Pierce, M.S. Clinical Psychology ‘17, G.C.R.T. Children’s Mental Health ‘17, and paramedic Michael Riley, A.A.S. Fire Service Administration ‘05.

authenticity at Amazon

(Photo courtesy of Todd Walker)

It can be easy not to think about the thousands of people involved behind the scenes in every Amazon purchase — from the moment you add something to your cart to the day it arrives on your doorstep. For Amazon communications manager Todd Walker, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications ’11, thinking about those unseen and unsung workers is his prime deliverable (no pun intended).

Walker describes how his duties as communications manager have changed since he joined Amazon in August 2019 due to the shifting landscape caused by the pandemic and the company encouraging employees to experiment and innovate. Currently, he leads video storytelling for Amazon’s operations network, telling employee stories in an unscripted documentary style.

“Good storytelling makes you feel something that you’re going to remember long after you’ve forgotten the pretty picture or the sound bite,” said Walker. “You can always tell when you’re watching something that’s purely PR. But when you’re watching someone talk in an authentic way, that’s going to come through in a way a scripted segment never could.”

Adidas Sneakers to Meta Headsets

(Photo courtesy of Brandon Walker)
If the combination of technology and athletics at first seems to be unrelated, you’d not only be right, but also on the same wavelength as Meta (formerly Facebook) leadership, who have been working to bridge that gap for the past nine years. Helping those efforts is Brandon Walker, B.A. Sociology ’11, who joined Meta in November 2021 as the strategic partnerships lead for basketball.

In this role, Walker manages Meta’s relationship with NBA and WNBA athletes while strategizing how the company engages with basketball holistically. According to Walker, Meta has identified basketball as a high priority because of its young, highly-engaged and international fanbase.

Education Across Borders and Generations

On Aug. 1, five months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the University of Alaska Foundation announced the creation of the Ukrainian Student Support Fund. Established by Jim Bowers, the fund provides financial assistance to college students from Ukraine who plan to attend UAA.

“In the immediate term, there was an inclination to help after witnessing people in this awful situation,” said Bowers. “In the longer term, when it comes to repairing what’s been destroyed, whether we’re talking buildings or bodies, you’re going to need people to be engineers or nurses to put all the broken pieces back together.”

This fund is the latest in a long history of philanthropy to UAA. In 2003, Bowers approached the university to establish a cultural exchange program between students of Russia and Alaska. To date, he has awarded $45,700 in scholarships, helping 27 students graduate in various fields from sociology, journalism, business, global logistics and international studies.

How black holes answer our biggest questions

Erin Hicks, professor in UAA’s Department of Astronomy and Physics, is asking some really big questions — perhaps the biggest question that has ever existed — why are we here?

She may be one step closer to finding the answer.

Last fall, Hicks and her collaborators were awarded observation time on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for two research projects to be carried out as part of a larger effort known as the Galactic Activity, Torus and Outflow Survey (GATOS). Hicks’ JWST research time is focused on studying supermassive black holes. This summer, JWST began providing Hicks and her team with photos and data.

UAA Rolls Out Tuition Benefits for Students

Since 1980, university tuition has continually increased, and it’s no secret that compared to previous generations, current students face more considerable financial barriers when it comes to obtaining a degree. The good news is since 2019, tuition and fees at universities across the country have stagnated, including at UAA. To continue providing students with affordable and accessible options for higher education, UAA rolled out a number of tuition benefits this fall.

“Keeping UAA affordable is essential to building and retaining Alaska’s workforce,” said Chancellor Sean Parnell. “Whether we have students seeking a four-year degree, pivoting in their career through one of our Fast Track Career Certificate programs, or are interested in graduate studies, we’re here to offer our community an affordable and accessible option that offers a pathway to a career.”

Alumni Homecoming Returns in Person

On Oct. 14, UAA’s largest alumni tradition returned to the Alaska Airlines Center after two years of virtual celebrations. Nearly 400 UAA graduates packed the AAC auxiliary gym for Homecoming Luncheon to reconnect with their alma mater while raising donations to benefit UAA programs and scholarships. In just one hour, the gathered alumni raised more than $20,000.

This year’s theme was diversity, equity and inclusion, with the program featuring stories of two alumni who changed history through their accomplishments: guest speaker Kenneth McCoy, B.A. Justice ‘96, the first diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Providence Alaska; and keynote speaker Lauren Magiera, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications ‘09, the first sports anchor for Chicago WGN News.


seawolves making
a difference
Many different flags of each country such as Philippines, Mexico, United States of America, etc. are held together by a string from one side of the wall to the other

UAA receives $3M to boost ESL endorsements

UAA’s School of Education was awarded a $3 million Project LEAF (Literacy Equity for Alaskan Families) grant. Provided by the Office of English Language Acquisition, the federal professional development grant aims to improve the effectiveness of teachers to meet the needs of students who are English language learners. Project LEAF provides tuition support to teachers currently working throughout Alaska who are looking to earn an ESL (English as a second language) endorsement on their teaching certificate. Typically, ESL endorsements are obtained by teachers who take 18 graduate-level credits beyond their initial certification and can cost upward of $10,000. Through the grant, Project LEAF will be able to offer tuition support to 125 teachers working toward their ESL endorsements, as well as provide 220 teachers with professional development opportunities that increase their knowledge, confidence and skills in language, literacy and content instruction for English learners.
UAA mascot holds a Together For Alaska white sign in front of a scoreboard

Mark your calendars: Giving Day 2022 is Feb. 22-23

In November 2021, UAA alumni turned their communities green and gold with shared pride from almost every state and outside the country. Part of a larger UA Giving Day initiative that raised over $262,000 for UAA and over $1 million across the University of Alaska System, nearly 300 alumni donated more than $80,000 to UAA’s campuses, colleges and programs — 70 more alumni and $31,000 more donated compared to Giving Day 2020. Originally scheduled to take place November 2022, the next Giving Day is slated for Feb. 22-23, 2023. We hope you, your company or your professional organization will get creative with us to make #49HoursForAlaska an even bigger success. Contact Samantha Sink, UA Foundation director of annual giving, at to get involved with Giving Day.

Class Notes

A portrait headshot photograph of Bill Hill grinning in a black suit and purple button-up shirt
Bill Hill
A portrait headshot photograph of Harry Scarborough grinning in a black suit and white button-up shirt
Harry Scarborough
A portrait headshot photograph of Lisa Corcoran grinning in a white coat and black dress
Lisa Corcoran
A portrait headshot photograph of Wendy Barnes smiling in a black suit and black dress shirt
Wendy Barnes


Secondary education alumnus and Bristol Bay Borough School District superintendent Bill Hill, B.Ed. ’96, G.C.R.T. ’14, was named 2023 Alaska Superintendent of the Year during a banquet hosted by the Alaska Superintendents Association on Sep. 29. Hill is now in the running for the School Superintendents Association’s National Superintendent of the Year award. (Photo courtesy of Bill Hill)


In October 2022, history alumnus Harry Scarborough, B.A. ’96, joined benchmarking nonprofit APQC as executive director of legal affairs. In his role, Scarborough provides legal advice and collaborates with executive and leadership teams in the areas of contracting processes, legal matters and laws that impact business functionality, develops strategies that support compliance, data protection and privacy, and is responsible for the governance of contracting and compliance processes. (Photo courtesy of APQC)
Lieu Dinh participates in a giant Jenga competition during a UAA College of Business and Public Policy event welcoming new students.

Lens on Campus

Lieu Dinh participates in a giant Jenga competition during a UAA College of Business and Public Policy event welcoming new students.

Lens on Campus

Lieu Dinh participates in a giant Jenga competition during a UAA College of Business and Public Policy event welcoming new students.
Microphone with teal background and snout of Seawolf mascot leaning in looking as if to speak

Listen to amazing stories wherever you are

Tune in to the Seawolf Voices podcast to hear fellow UAA alums and members of Seawolf Nation talk about their pathways to and from education. Seawolf Voices is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Google Podcasts, Audible and Amazon Music.

magazine staff

Matt Jardin, B.B.A. ’10

Matt Jardin, B.B.A. ’10
Catalina Myers

Brett Rawalt

James Evans, B.A. ’16


Katie Bender, M.P.A. ’10
Crystal Enkvist, B.A. ’93, M.P.A. ’13
Tim Gravel, B.B.A. ’89
Virginia Groeschel, B.S. ’06, M.S. ’20
Daniel Hart, B.S. 10
Jason Richards, B.S. ’11
Jessica Horwatt, B.B.A. ’97
Jessica Jacobsen, B.S. ’13, M.S. ’19
Leila Kimbrell, B.A. ’02, C.T.2. ’02
Lessie Kincaid, B.S. ’13
Tana Skye Nevada, B.B.A. ’16
Pearl-Grace Pantaleone, B.A. ’14
Lonnie Ridgeway, B.A. ’18
Tanya Pont, Ex-Officio,
Interim Executive Director for
University Advancement

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