Standing ovations for UAA alumni during governor’s State of the State Address

by Matt Jardin  |   

On Jan. 30, 2024, Gov. Dunleavy delivered his annual State of the State Address, during which he spoke extensively about the university, including UAA’s 14% increase in enrollment, UAA alumni’s 80% job placement rate within the first year of graduating, and funding items in his budget directed at university research. The governor and legislators also recognized three Alaskans with direct ties to UAA with standing ovations:

Kristen Benge, M.P.A. Public Administration ’15

Alaska State Trooper Investigator Kristen Benge chose what can only be described as one of the toughest jobs imaginable. After patrol posts in the Mat-Su Valley and Nome, Benge is now an investigator in the Child Abuse Investigations Unit in Palmer. Through her work, she stops abusers from harming children and sees that they are called to account for their horrible crimes. Her work doesn’t stop at the courtroom — Benge also plays a part in the healing process for victims and families as they recover from their trauma.

Sheila Sweetsir, B.Ed. Elementary Education ’97, G.C.R.T. Principal ’10

A new study out of Harvard University found that Alaska’s charter schools are the best in the nation, and Alaskans like Sheila Sweetsir are a big reason why. Sweetsir is the principal and co-founder of the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in Anchorage, which has been operating since 2007. Her leadership and dedication to nurturing and educating children with a combination of sound curriculum and indigenous knowledge show how outstanding educational outcomes can be achieved in Alaska with the right environment and approach to learning.

Patty Gilbert, former Prince William Sound College employee

On the evening of Nov. 20, 2023, a hillside neighborhood in Wrangell was struck by a landslide that crushed homes, infrastructure and tragically claimed the lives of six Alaskans. First responders and volunteers from the community immediately began search and rescue efforts, even if it put them in harm’s way, and helped rescue Christina Florshutz the following day. Mayor Patty Gilbert is representing the spirit of Wrangell, and the close-knit community that is now in the rebuilding, healing and recovery process.

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