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Alumni advice for December grads

by Joey Besl  |   

A wall of gonfalons stand at the ready for commencement. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

A wall of gonfalons stand at the ready for commencement. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

This year's commencement is all about the new-new facility, new ceremony, new schedule, old gonfalons.

The gonfalon, as you may recall from our historical briefing back in May, is a ceremonial banner with roots in renaissance Italy. Specifically, gonfalons are flags suspended from a crossbar, and it was considered an honor to hoist the flag at community events throughout Italy. The same honor holds true today: each college invites an alumni to return to commencement, don the robes, lift the gonfalon and guide the latest class of graduates into commencement. It's a visible leadership role, so who better to provide advice to graduating seniors than our distinguished alumni volunteers? Four of this December's gonfalon bearers and hooding angels-the equivalent honor at the graduate school's hooding ceremony-weighed in with their wise words for the latest batch of Seawolf alumni.

Desiree ComptonB.A. Psychology '07, M.S. Clinical Psychology '10

A series of challenges haven't kept Desiree from aiming high and achieving her goals. An unexpected teen pregnancy could have derailed her college plans, but she silenced the haters and started taking classes at community college. A few years later, she walked across the stage to receive a master's degree from UAA.

She got her first job as the Community Impact Director for United Way of Mat-Su, doing mostly administrative work. She also worked as an on-call clinician consulting at the local emergency room, Desiree realized she thrived in the clinical setting and decided to leave the board rooms to pursue full time clinical work. She now works as a behavioral health consultant for Southcentral Foundation. "I LOVE MY JOB and don't ever plan to leave," she wrote. Based at a primary care clinic in Wasilla, Desiree is able to pair clinical psychology with a patient's standard medical care. "Every day is different and I also get to learn a lot about medicine," she added.

When the psychology department asked her to participate in this Saturday's hooding ceremony, she gratefully accepted. "I feel very honored for this opportunity to congratulate the new class of professionals," she said. She also has a few words of wisdom for the fresh grad school grads.

"I would advise the graduates to never stop learning. The degree is a great accomplishment but just the first part of an exciting journey," she noted. "It's okay to ask questions and it's a strength to recognize your limitations. Know that you are competent and take pride in your accomplishments.

"Use your power to empower others. Ever since I graduated, it seems like my greatest rewards come from helping others find a way to achieve their dreams. I take great pride in the accomplishments of others. Be a mentor and your work will live on for generations to come."

Read more about Desiree.

Kelly Mullican Kowal will lead in the College of Education graduates at this December's commencement. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage).

Kelly Mullican Kowal will lead in the College of Education graduates at this December's commencement. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Kelly Mullican-KowalB.Ed. Elementary Education '91

Originally, Kelly moved here from California to play for the women's basketball team, where she was a four-time letter winner for the Seawolves. When commencement rolled around after four years in the North, she found it hard to leave her new home. "After graduation, I saw myself heading into coaching and teaching," she said. "I saw myself here in Alaska only for a few more years.

"My couple of years led to almost 30 years here in Alaska.  I never left."

After graduating in 1991 with a degree in elementary education and a minor in physical education, she took her first job as a substitute teacher and got her foot in the door with the Anchorage School District. She then taught elementary students for more than a decade, and is now closing in on another decade at the middle school level. She's coached basketball, volleyball and track for the YMCA and the district-including at East High, where the boys team went on a 4-in-a-row state championship tear in the '90s. You can currently find her teaching language arts at Romig Middle School.

Kelly still stays active at her alma mater-she's a go-to color commentator for Seawolves basketball on the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network, she joined the Seawolf Athlete alumni chapter, attended September's athletics alumni reunion and she'll be back on campus yet again this Sunday to volunteer at commencement. "I am excited to be a part of the first graduation at the center," she noted.

Her advice for the latest class of UAA graduates: "Continue to dream big!!!"

Brian FranklinB.B.A. Accounting '12

Brian — a licensed pilot since he was 17 — sought out UAA for its aviation management program, but things changed along the way. Once in Anchorage, he enrolled in the Honors College and later founded his own tutoring company, prompting him to switch majors to accounting. He combined his academic interests after graduation, signing on with LeighFisher-an aviation management consulting firm in his hometown of San Francisco. But he had unfinished business in Alaska (yes, literally).

He moved back in 2013 to run Frontier Tutoring-the business he started as a student in 2008. "Just like aviation is a bug, so is entrepreneurship, and particularly entrepreneurship in Alaska," he noted.

Brian calls himself "a proud Seawolf alumnus" and has supported the university both on- and off-campus. He's a member of the College of Business & Public Policy advisory board, and most of his tutoring staff are either current students or recent alumni of UAA. He plans to earn an M.B.A. at Harvard starting next year.

Brian's recommendation for this latest class of graduates is to dream big and execute well. "Every year we hear about UAA students and alumni who perform on par with people from the most prestigious schools in the country, whether it's winning competitive grants, getting top jobs, or otherwise making genuine impact at scale," he said.

"I can't wait to see more of those stories from this year's Seawolf grads."

Read more about Brian and learn more about his company Frontier Tutoring.

Melanie Baca Osborne will carry the gonfalon for the College of Health at this December's commencement. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage).

Melanie Baca Osborne will carry the gonfalon for the College of Health at this December's commencement. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Melanie Baca Osborne — B.A. Justice, Psychology '96

Melanie — a Valdez native — moved to the big city of Anchorage for college, then the bigger city of Seattle for law school. After earning her law degree from University of Washington, she quickly returned to her home state and has since built an impressive career in Alaska law.

Today, Melanie serves as general counsel for Chugach Alaska Corp., acting as the primary legal advisor for the company of 2,500 shareholders and 4,300 employees in 62 locations across the globe. But the path to her current key position wasn't immediately obvious after leaving school-rather, it resulted from years spent acquiring professional experience and legal specialties in Alaska.

After first returning to Anchorage, she clerked for a local judge, then transitioned to private practice, where she gained a focus on Alaska Native and American Indian interests. In her early career, Melanie primarily litigated tribal contracts against federal departments, and even served as co-counsel in a successful case before the U.S. Supreme Court (the court voted 8-0 in favor of her position). Her diverse experience with several Alaska firms and corporation-paired with her solid academic foundation-laid the groundwork for her current role at Chugach.

Her advice to graduates is simply stated: "Set high goals, but don't be disappointed to change course."

Melanie formerly served as president of the UAA Alumni Association, and is an active member of the Justice Alumni chapter.

Read more about Melanie.


Learn more about gonfalons and to read alumni advice from May's commencement volunteers.

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