The School's alumni network is a major social work resource in Alaska and across the country, providing services, leadership, and education.
We are especially proud of our alumni in positions of leadership in the profession, practicing in diverse clinical, academic, and administrative settings. Most of our alumni work directly with individuals, groups and families in need, or providing the leadership that makes such professional work possible and effective.
Spotlight: Cory Gordon
MSW alumni Cory Gordon uses film to bring attention to Social Work issues. In 2011 she created a documentary about Anchorage Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) housing program for the homeless. This moving film titled "ACMHS Housing First Documentary," was nominated for the 2014 NASW Media Awards in the Best Documentary/Feature Film Award category.
Cory then filmed "Ililirstait: The Helpers", a film that showcases how Alaska Native social workers from UAA are empowering their people and making a difference in their communities. It premiered in Los Angeles and San Francisco in November 2014 and was nominated for best short at both the American Indian Film Festival and Red Nation Film Festival. This film, was also nominated for the NASW Media Award.
B.A. Social Work, Class of 2013 Hometown: Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Fun Fact: Went to elementary school by camel.
Meet Michelle Goolio. On Sundays, her mother or father would hitch up a small cart to one of the family camels and travel about five hours from their yurt to a nearby small town. Michelle stayed the week with an aunt. On Fridays, her mom picked her up. Junior high and high school were much the same.
The Goolios are Mongolian herders in the Gobi Desert. Michelle is the youngest of six, and the only one to attempt college. She'll graduate from UAA this May with a bachelor's degree in social work.
How did a young woman from Genghis Kahn's home territory end up in Anchorage?
I learned about Goolio from one of her professors, who left a message about this remarkable young woman determined to go back to Mongolia and introduce better health services for rural herders. We met for a chat at a campus cafeteria late one December afternoon. Michelle is only a name she adopted for ease of use in America; her Mongolian first name is Tumenkhishig. She's 27.
Her mother, who only went to fourth grade, wanted her to become a herder like her brothers and sisters;she had an intuitive knack with animals and could always bring home the strays. She was a competitive horse racer in the annual Naadam festival.
Additional Student & Alumni Spotlights
B.S.W. '84; M.S.W. '97 Hometown: Port Graham, Alaska Fun Fact: Loves to travel. Her next travel plans include Europe, Canada, the U.S. and Brazil.
Susan LaBelle isn't one who enjoys the spotlight. Reserved and quiet, Susan thrives behind the scenes—and closed doors, as she says—serving and improving the state of Alaska and its rural and urban communities. "It's important to remember that it's not appropriate or fitting in my culture to boast about oneself or tell stories about how well we've done this or that."
But these days it's hard for Susan to stay under the radar. With more than 35 years of professional and volunteer service to the Alaska Native and non-Native community, she's being formally honored at the UAA Alumni Association's annual Green and Gold Gala this September.
As one of three Alumni of Distinction awardees, Susan says she's honored to be receiving this accolade from the university and its alumni.
"I'm very honored to be recognized and given this award. I was very surprised to learn I was selected as this year's recipient. There are many people who are doing great things for the community and to be acknowledged as one of them is a blessing," Susan says.
A voice for rural Alaskans
Susan has been collaborating on healthy solutions to Alaska's biggest challenges for years. From her early work at Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) to her position as the interim family services director for Chugachmiut and her work as assistant clinical professor for UAA's School of Social Work, she has embraced her role as a community leader.
Over the last three decades Susan has become a voice for Alaska Native people and brought a rural Alaska perspective to the table in some of the state's most important discussions and decisions that resulted in better services to Alaskans experiencing mental illness, dementia, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury and developmental disabilities. In particular, Susan has advocated for children, helping ensure they grow up to be healthy adults.
Shaped by her past
"My compassion for people makes me strive for change," she says. It's personal. Her family history and her heritage are part of why she works as hard as she does. An Autiiq/Filipina, Susan grew up in Port Graham, a small Kachemak Bay village on the Kenai Peninsula.