Political science alumna earns degree before setting foot on campus
by Matt Jardin |
The first day Gabriella Hill set foot at UAA was also the day she picked up her diploma, three departmental honor cords, membership in the Alaska chapter of the Pi Sigma Alpha political science honor society, and the highest university honors.
Graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a minor in Alaska Native studies, Hill completed her degree completely online from her hometown of Naknek, a village of 470 residents located 300 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Even though Hill started working toward her degree in 2016, much of the online infrastructure that allowed her to take classes remotely was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, UAA’s Department of Political Science had recommitted to making its curriculum available to those who might otherwise have difficulty traveling to Anchorage for classes.
“Gabriella’s outstanding achievements vindicate the decision to extend our program’s accessibility to remote students, thanks to the availability of new technologies,” said Forrest Nabors, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “We look forward to serving more students from across Alaska in this way.”
Hill chipped away at her degree by taking classes remotely whenever she returned to Naknek between trips abroad. These travels had the added benefit of solidifying her choice to major in political science, which she chose after learning in an Alaska Native politics class about how court cases often have lasting ripple effects on disparate areas of society.
“Traveling really opened my eyes,” said Hill. “Growing up in the village, politics felt on a much smaller scale than the rest of the U.S. Then traveling to other countries and seeing the way their government systems are set up and getting to see that comparison — when you're so just in depth in your own country it's hard to see outside and see how we could improve here.”
While in Armenia at the start of the pandemic, Hill rushed back to Naknek with her husband before the borders closed and flights were grounded. Once she was back home with traveling abroad virtually off the table, she pursued her degree in earnest. Along the way, Hill gave birth to her daughter, making the flexibility offered by remote learning not just a convenience, but a necessity.
“Having to move to the city is not an easy transition for people, especially coming from the village,” said Hill. “If I didn't have that flexibility to start my family and be around my family while pursuing my education, I don't know that I would have a degree.”
Looking to the horizon, Hill plans to continue her studies and travels by enrolling in a graduate program abroad. Her ultimate goal is to return to Alaska and apply her education and experience to issues directly affecting Indigenous communities, such as tribal enrollment and climate change.
“Politics is such a huge part of Indigenous identity and history, but whenever we talk about American politics, our voice is left out of that discussion,” said Hill. “So having people from our community understand the issues impacting us is really important.”