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The new Native Student Services
by Matt Jardin |
A version of this story originally appeared in UAA Alumni Spirit magazine in November 2020. View the full magazine here.
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a year of many changes. Some are adverse, but others have been for the better, including the new alumni staff at UAA’s Native Student Services (NSS): director Amber Christensen Fullmer, B.A. Sociology ’03; interim assistant director Quentin Simeon, B.A. English ’06; student services coordinator Paula Jones, O.E.C. Conflict Resolution ’19, B.H.S. Human Services ’20; and office manager Cheryl Turner, A.A.S. Human Services ’00, B.H.S. Human Services ’08.
“We’re hearing from students that they don’t feel represented in the ranks of faculty, staff or administration. That’s why this team is a good fit because we are these students,” said Fullmer. “Having somebody like us who came from where they come from and experienced the things they experience, I hope that shows them they can succeed without having to check their indigenousness at the door.”
Housed in Rasmuson Hall, NSS provides a space for Alaska Native and rural students — which make up about 20% of first-year UAA students — to study or relax. Their flagship initiative, the Native Early Transition (NET) Program, invites those students to live on campus a week earlier than other students in order to acclimate to more urban life.
Fullmer has overseen the expansion of the NET Program, growing it from a brief introductory phase to a two-year mentorship opportunity and academic pathway. While the NSS team actively checks in with students, those toward the end of their two-year periods can serve as mentors to students about to embark on their own UAA journeys.
Responsible for onboarding is Simeon. Having been a frequent visitor to NSS during his time as a UAA student, he understands how crucial it is that the first face new UAA prospects via the NET Program see be a friendly and relatable one.
“It means I came home,” said Simeon of joining the NSS team. “I’m honored to be here and provide a little guidance, but mostly a welcoming face they can identify with. Very few Native students graduate college, especially if they’re coming from rural Alaska. I want to make sure they are represented when they get to UAA and that they don’t feel like they have to lose a piece of their Native identity.”
Echoing his sentiment is Jones, who helps students navigate college’s laborious aspects like paperwork and scheduling. Relying on tutoring coordinated by NSS to help complete her final semester upended by COVID-19, Jones knows all too well the lifeline NSS can provide.
“If I hadn’t had this connection, I would not be a graduate. Navigating life away from my Yupik culture, there was always something missing, but it was in front of me the entire time — NSS helped me realize that,” said Jones. “When Native students move to an urban area, they feel like they’re living in two worlds. If I can help them realize that we can take our values and implement them into Western education and flourish, that would mean so much.”