Pulu to the rescue

by joey  |   

For a high school student, one of the few things more daunting than applying to college is figuring out how to pay for it. For most, it's their first foray into loans and grants, let alone the mighty FAFSA form.

But fear not! Daniel Pulu '09 is here to help.

As a college and career specialist with Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, Daniel Pulu, B.A. Sociology '09, helps students reach their education goals. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Daniel combines his love of people with his knack for numbers as a college and career specialist with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE). In this role, he guides thousands of high school students to postsecondary education, whether that means vocational school, trade apprenticeships or a university like UAA.

"I always picture myself when I was straight out of high school. I didn't know of any resources that could help me navigate the postsecondary process," he said. "I want to be that person I needed back then for students today."

ACPE is a state operation based in Juneau that promotes and makes a college education possible for Alaskans. Through APCE grants, loans and scholarships, Daniel helps Alaskans realize that a higher education is always possible.

"When you see the lights go on for students, that's priceless," he said.

Based in the Anchorage office, Daniel focuses specifically on outreach.

"We're constantly going out to schools and talking about what they should work on their junior and senior year, proper steps to obtain financial aid," he said of his role, which takes him across Anchorage, Kenai and the Mat-Su Valley. "If they need someone to review their scholarship portfolio, we're here."

Daniel in the ACPE Success Center at the UAA One Stop in the University Center. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Though he helps students attend any postsecondary school in Alaska, he has a unique knowledge of UAA. Prior to ACPE, he worked for two years in UAA's TRiO office, helping low-income and first-generation students succeed by connecting them with grant-funded federal programs. Prior to that, he was a student himself.

After graduating from East High School, Daniel headed to Samoa as a gift from his family. It was a big summer sendoff before he enrolled at UCLA in the fall... but his family immediately missed him too much. His mom pushed him to do two years at UAA before moving to California.

"So I went to UAA and I loved it," he said. "I loved that I had familiar faces around me. I liked how the professors interacted ... I fell in love with campus life." Two years passed and he stayed in Anchorage. Junior year, a group of friends revived the Polynesian Community Council, planning cultural events on campus. Senior year, his cohort of sociology classmates had nearly identical schedules. "We all walked back and forth between classes," he noted. "The camaraderie was amazing."

UAA provided a broad range of courses, letting Daniel dabble in justice, accounting and math before settling on sociology.

"I always thought numbers was the way to go because I was so passionate about math," he said, "but then I realized the common denominator with all this was working with individuals."

Now, as a college and career specialist, he gets the best of both math and sociology. Most days he'll talk students through their financial options one-on-one. Other days he's addressing an entire senior class in a high school auditorium. But wherever he is, and whoever he's meeting, the concerns are often the same.

"The biggest [question] is the financial aid aspect of postsecondary education," he said, offering plenty of ideas to draw tuition numbers down.

For one, living at home can cut the costs of any program. In-state tuition drops the price further at UA schools. ACPE extends Alaska Performance Scholarships for students who earn a 2.5 GPA or above in high school. To cover the remaining expense, ACPE also offers (and explains) state student loans.

"I feel our service really helps individual students get a better picture about college," Daniel said. "It's dispelling myths, basically, and making them understand that it's feasible to go to any college if they put in the work."

Daniel is equally committed to assisting students outside of work, too. A board member and former vice president for the Polynesian Community Center of Alaska, he previously worked with West High students on social support and coping techniques. Now, his focus is funding a college scholarship for Polynesian high school students.

All his efforts are rooted in a genuine belief that education after high school matters. That it's not simply important; it's essential.

"Postsecondary education comes in all shapes and sizes," he noted. "I honestly believe there is a postsecondary path for every student."

Learn more about state scholarships, grants and loans at ACPE's website. Or, better yet, visit Daniel and his colleagues in person at the University Center One Stop or the ACPE Success Center at Dimond Mall.

The University of Alaska Anchorage University Center in Anchorage, Alaska Friday, April 11, 2014.

Creative Commons License "Pulu to the rescue" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.