UAA to graduate more than 1,150 students this spring

by Kirstin Olmstead, UAA Office of University Advancement  |   

The University of Alaska Anchorage’s spring commencement activities will look a little different this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But even a pandemic will not prevent UAA from celebrating the spring Class of 2020 graduates on May 3, via a special website. The site honors the accomplishments of more than 1,150 undergraduate, graduate and professional school students from the Anchorage campus.

“Our students embody resilience,” UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said. “Completing a degree alone is a significant achievement. The spring Class of 2020 faced unprecedented challenges this semester due to COVID-19. In spite of this, they managed to transition to online learning and other course delivery forms for themselves and their school-age children, while still working and managing other commitments. They are a tenacious group, and we are pleased to welcome them to our family of Seawolf alumni — more than 57,000 strong.”

Clare Baldwin and Alex Jorgensen are this spring’s student commencement speakers; Virginia Groeschel is the graduate hooding speaker. Baldwin will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. During her time at UAA, she has been active in the Union of Students at the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA) leading the student body as a senator, vice president and later president. Jorgensen will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. He has served the student body as a USUAA senator and speaker of the assembly. Groeschel, an ’06 civil engineering alumna, serves on the College of Engineering Advisory Board. Groeschel returned to UAA and completed a Master of Science in project management. Speeches were pre-recorded for inclusion on the tribute website.

The website will also showcase the biographies of three individuals receiving honorary degrees. The Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters is awarded to Jean Pollard for leading the Alaska Highway Memorial Project and Molly McCammon for her leadership of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, where she oversaw one of the largest habitat protection programs in the nation. John Torgerson is awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws for his service as a state senator and interim federal co-chair of the Denali Commission.

Biographies of Meritorious Service Award recipients Edna DeVries and Vic Fischer also will be featured. DeVries is honored for her many years of public service in state and local government and Fischer for his role in drafting portions of Alaska’s Constitution and founding UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER). Retiring faculty who have received emeritus status are also honored on the website.

Of special note this year are College of Health nursing students who graduated early to enter the workforce amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The college coordinated with relevant university offices, the Alaska Board of Nursing and the accrediting agency to make this possible. Students completed course requirements on an expedited timeline so they could apply for temporary licensure qualifying them to practice for six months. They will follow up with completion of the licensing exam that all nursing students take to become a permanent RN.

In addition, the first cohort of six students will graduate from the Doctor of Pharmacy Program through Idaho State University. This partnership between the UAA College of Health and Idaho State University College of Pharmacy means students can remain in Alaska while completing their degree.

Due to social distancing and event restriction mandates, university leaders determined in March that any face-to-face commencement ceremonies should be postponed or canceled. UAA hopes to offer an in-person ceremony at some point in the future.

The countdown to the graduation ceremony has begun. More information is available at

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