I AM UAA: Cristina Gaina
by Kathleen McCoy |
B.A. Economics '11
M.S. Project Management, Class of 2013
Hometown: Chisinau, Republic of Moldova
Fun Fact: Passionate about landscape and close-up photography
UAA graduate student Cristina Gaina's native language is Romanian. While in school she studied French and was part of a Francophone program that included advanced courses in math, biology, chemistry and physics all taught in French. And since her home country of Moldova used to be part of the Soviet Union, Russian quickly became her third language.
"I would love to get out of my comfort zone and learn German or Chinese," she says in clear English. "Speaking multiple languages opens doors and provides opportunities for a deeper understanding of the world's cultural treasures."
Indeed. Since being at UAA, Cristina has tutored French and last spring traveled to Kamchatka, Russia, as an undergraduate researcher with the College of Business and Public Policy (CBPP). Part of a UAA National Science Foundation-funded project, "Salmon Harvests in Arctic Communities: Local Institution, Risk, and Resilience" led by CBPP economics professors Lance Howe and James Murphy, Cristina helped conduct economic experiments designed to better understand how indigenous people make harvest and sharing decisions in risky environments.
In addition to the cultural takeaways, Cristina sites the many transferrable skills she gained by participating as a researcher: "I was exposed to a lot of techniques that work not only for research," she says. "For me, it was learning and understanding what goes into managing a research project: how to acquire resources, how to solve problems, how to respond to unexpected situations, how to manage risk. These skills don't apply only to project management, but also to daily life." Being involved with this research project allowed her to enhance her analytical and cultural skills that she will use in her career.
Language may open doors for Cristina, but she clearly has the smarts and drive to walk through those doors and make the most of the opportunities coming her way.
For example, in explaining why she chose to pursue an education in the U.S., she says, "Moldova is still a developing country. Although it has been independent for 20 years, there are still socio-economic issues that need to be addressed. Being exposed to economic turmoil and instability growing up drove me to seek education to better understand why things happen the way they do in developing countries, as well as transitional economies, such as Moldova. And while studying in the U.S., I got exposed to an even greater array of global issues."
Cristina came to UAA after her cousin, Dorin Parasca, a UAA and CBPP alum as well, recommended she consider the value of a U.S. education. In Anchorage, she received support and encouragement from her host family, Jo and Peter Michalski, and she says she is also very grateful for the support and guidance from CBPP, University Honors College and the project management department.
With this support, she was able to wrap up her economics degree on the heels of her research trip, and she didn't think twice about remaining at UAA for her master's. She continues to participate in leadership roles within UAA Student Affairs and works part-time in the Career Services Center. In between finding time for personal passions such a photography and travel, she focuses on what will come after graduate school. What are her plans for the future?
"My biggest dream is to someday work on projects in the nonprofit arena," she says. "I'm very interested in children's rights and human trafficking is also another dear issue. Moldova and several other ex-Soviet countries are affected by human trafficking and I want to see that change. The knowledge and skills that I am learning in the project management program will allow me to do that one day."
Cristina has many goals in life and although she believes in lifelong education, graduating with her master's in project management is an important milestone. After graduation, she is excited about the opportunities and challenges ahead: Maybe she will return to Moldova, stay in the U.S., or settle somewhere else in the world. She has a younger brother going to law school in Italy. Old friends in Switzerland, France, and Germany she visited recently; new friends in Kamchatka. And she's always dreamt of traveling to Japan and New Zealand.
"I've met a few students in the Lower 48 who have been doing research in South Africa, all involving project management," she says, considering the possibilities. "The world is my oyster and I would like to take advantage of what it has to offer."