ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Ginny Carney '90, Master of Arts in English

by Kathleen McCoy  |   

Ginny Carney Ginny Carney '90 was born into an impoverished Cherokee/Appalachian family and grew up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Ginny, the oldest of five children, grew up without electricity, indoor plumbing or transportation, and had little to occupy her childhood years. "I often absorbed myself in a set of children's encyclopedias that my parents had somehow managed to purchase," she said. By the age of four, Ginny had learned to read and quickly developed an insatiable desire to learn more about other countries and cultures. "I decided early in life that I would devote my life to working with children."

Although her family never seemed to have enough money for food, clothing or medical care, Ginny's parents made sure that she and her siblings stayed in school. "They always encouraged us to do our best academically." In '59, Ginny became the first in her family to graduate high school. But like many first-generation students, she had no money for tuition and no knowledge of the scholarship application process. She persevered and put herself through two years of college by working two jobs before getting married at age 22.

Three babies and several years later, Ginny graduated summa cum laude from Tennessee Temple University with a B.A. in English, but her dream of working with children led to fostering 16 additional children, and once again, her education was put on hold.

Ginny never anticipated a move to Alaska, but in '75 her husband secured a civilian military job in Anchorage with the U.S. Air Force. While in Anchorage, Ginny was accepted into the nursing program at the Anchorage Community College, but had to move back to Tennessee midway through the program. She didn't let that get in her way, though. Ginny earned her A.A.S. in nursing from Cleveland State Community College, passed the state board exams and began working as a pediatric nurse in '78.

The Carneys returned to Anchorage in '80 where they remained until '93. Ginny continued to work as a registered nurse until '84 when the family adopted four pre-school children who had been orphaned by a former foster daughter. "Balancing my roles as a mother and full-time RN proved a daunting task," said Ginny. In '88, she enrolled in graduate school at UAA and completed her M.A. in English in '90.

"As a non-traditional student, I initially felt quite self-conscious and out of place in graduate school," Ginny admitted. "During my two years as a graduate student and later as an adjunct English instructor, I enjoyed the support and mentorship of a team of UAA professors who gave me the confidence to enroll in a doctoral program at the age of 52 with four children still at home." She pushed on and completed a Ph.D. in English at the University of Kentucky in 2000.

She currently serves as president of Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, Minnesota, where she's held positions as an instructor of American Indian literature, chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities, dean of academics, and vice president of academic and student affairs. Leech Lake Tribal College employs about 70 faculty, staff and administrators, and is home to 250 full-time students.

"My UAA professors played a vitally important role in preparing me for my current position as a college president," said Ginny. "UAA's influence continues to reach far beyond the borders of the Great Land as I, like hundreds of other graduates, attempt to build intellectual capacity in my own community and to pass on the leadership skills that I learned at UAA."

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