From Utqiagvik to Cambridge

by Catalina Myers  |   

When UAA alumna, Terzah Tippin Poe, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications '98 was in her 20s she worked as a bartender in a number of high-end establishments in the state's capital. It was one night bartending that she realized, in order to be on the other side of the bar like many of her well-to-do clients, she would need a university degree and diploma.

"Oddly enough the genesis for me to pursue my degree was when I was working as a bartender," said Poe, who currently calls Cambridge, Massachusetts her home and walks the halls of Harvard University, cultivating the next generation of global leaders. A Harvard graduate herself, Poe holds master's degrees in liberal arts and environmental management and sustainability. "In order for me to be on the other side of that bar one day I needed a degree. Without that degree, it was a barrier to the entry of a number of things I wanted to accomplish in my life, which was centered around writing, communication and working with people. I couldn't do that kind of work without a degree and the necessary education." 

All that sat between her and the life she had planned for herself was the bar counter. She decided that night she was going back to school.

Nearly 20 years later, Poe's resume not only includes her role as a Harvard instructor but also as a consultant for international companies offering her expertise on climate change policy and advocating for Arctic Indigenous people at public speaking events worldwide. She is no stranger to the world stage and has lectured all over the world on global issues ranging from sustainability and indigenous rights to social justice and business. Despite her jet-set career, she remains grounded in her Alaska Inupiaq roots and is grateful for what she believes was a world-class education at UAA. 

Currently, Poe calls Cambridge, Massachusetts her home and is an instructor at Harvard University. (Photo courtesy, Terzah Poe)

"I think the education I received at UAA was on par with the advanced degree that I received from Harvard," said Poe, who said she still has to pinch herself to remind her that she's achieved the goals she set out for herself so long ago. "They built on each other. You can do anything with this degree, it's really up to you. It's the thing that will open the door and you can walk through that door and there are a lot of doors out here."

An education

Poe's education started when she was a young girl and although she was raised in Fairbanks, she spent her summers with family in Utqiagvik, learning her Alaska Native heritage in the North Slope Borough town. She said her father instilled a love of reading early in her childhood, which launched her lifelong ambition to pursue education - an endeavor she continues today as she works toward earning her Ph.D. 

When she was 12, Poe signed up for her first official college-level course, a film class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The youngest student in her class by far, it introduced her to the world of academia, although it would still be more than a decade before she would complete her degree.

"I had quite a traveling childhood as they say and had the opportunity to live in villages as small as 75 people to brief periods of time living in Anchorage. But most of childhood, growing up in Alaska, was shaped by my family in Utqiagvik and primarily in Fairbanks," she said. By the time Poe was in her early teens, her father had moved the family to Southeast and by her early 20s enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast, before moving to Anchorage and enrolling at UAA. She said it took nearly a decade to complete her degree, as she took some time off to pursue some life and work experiences, but when she came back and finished, it was one of her proudest accomplishments. "I am the first generation of my family to actually attend university, which I don't think is an unusual circumstance for people of the Alaska Native community. I think a lot of folks from my generation - Generation X - that would probably echo that."

Nose to the grindstone

For Poe, earning her degree was work she took seriously and took advantage of the many opportunities given to her during her time at UAA.

"It was also a place that provided me several internship opportunities that I took full advantage of," said Poe. "Both of the internships that I did led to significant jobs after I obtained my degree." Her first internship was with Abbe Hensley, who at the time worked at KSKA (since renamed Alaska Public Media) and is now the executive director for Best Beginnings. Through her internship with Hensley, she earned a national public communications fellowship and worked as a contract employee for several years. Her second internship opportunity came with the Nerland Agency (renamed Spawn Ideas in early 2017) and reported to the agency's founder Rick Nerland. Her work as an intern while attending UAA ended up with a job offer and a full-time position as the lead media buyer for the agency upon graduation. She worked for the Nerland Agency for nearly three years before moving on, and from there, the sky was the limit, Poe's career took off in a big way.

Terzah has lectured all over the world and despite her jet-set career, she remains grounded in her Alaska Inupiaq roots. (Photo courtesy, Terzah Poe)

She took a public information job with the Department of Environmental Conservation and then took on high-level roles at the Alaska Federation of Natives, CIRI's $100 million dollar tourism marketing division and then a leadership position at Shell, all of which she credits UAA for her education and a degree in journalism and public communications.

"I have to say that the learning environment for me at UAA was inspirational, the group of journalism professors I had exposed me not only to some of the best teachers in Alaska but to professionals who were award and Pulitzer Prize-winning," said Poe. "I learned something from every professor I had there and the caliber of people and teachers was unparalleled."

Although Poe's resume boasts an impressive list of accomplishments, she remains humble and grateful for the education she received from her home state university. She said the passion for teaching and the core values of student-focused education exemplified by her professors at UAA is something she carries with her every day into her lectures at Harvard.

"I think the core value of UAA, from where I sit as a former student and supporter of the university, are its students and teachers," she said. "I just can't say enough how important and crucial my undergrad degree was where I sit today."

Written by Catalina Myers, UAA Office of University Advancement 

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