Facing the future

by Matt Jardin  |   

Ryan Rivers
Fall 2022 graduate student speaker Ryan Rivers. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

For Master of Public Administration alumnus Ryan Rivers, education was the furthest thing from a priority, which makes his turn as the fall 2022 graduate student speaker all the more inspiring.

“Having come to this point is the completion of a transformation that I can appreciate now given how low I was before,” said Rivers. “I was basically in a place where there was literally no future for me to look forward to versus now where there are many different paths I could take and the problem is simply deciding what to do next.”

Growing up, Rivers describes being apathetic toward school. He enrolled at UAA after high school because it just seemed like the expected next step, and eventually transferred to New Mexico State University to finish his criminal justice undergraduate degree. When he proceeded to the University of Toledo for law school, he brushed off advice for how he would need to readjust his approach to education, which cut his time there short.

Moving back to Alaska to reorient, Rivers accepted a job with the Alaska Court System in Kotzebue, staying for five years. While there, he interacted with coworkers who helped him learn to truly invest in his work, education, and, most importantly, himself.

“You can have all the potential in the world, but it's just potential until you forge it into something useful,” said Rivers. “Being in Kotzebue allowed me to do just that. It exposed me to people on a higher professional level who gave me a benchmark for how I should model myself. The experience I built there helped me to be successful when I finally came back to UAA.”

Newly inspired, Rivers returned to UAA to pursue a graduate degree in public administration for its greater potential to solve larger societal issues. 

Focusing on a dual emphasis of public management and public policy, Rivers aims to use his new degree to tackle issues he refers to as “wicked problems.” Specifically, he hopes to address misinformation, which undermines our ability to approach other wicked problems, such as homelessness.

“Some societal issues are like Gordian knots — you pull one part of the rope and something else tightens, and they can be notoriously difficult to unravel,” said Rivers. “We need people who are geared to confront those kinds of issues, and the means of how the work is conducted is something we’ve discussed throughout the M.P.A. program, which will be valuable moving forward.”

The importance of solving problems is something Rivers hopes to convey as the fall 2022 graduate student speaker, whether they be problems in the present or in the future, to societal ones like misinformation and homelessness, and even the personal journey to finding renewed purpose and meaning.

“People talk about how future generations are going to solve problems that we can't fathom. We are now that future generation,” said Rivers. “What we can't solve, that's what we will pass on to the next generation. But right now we are the present. So we need to get out there, work hard and be part of society at large, because we are the ones who will be the change that happens today.”

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