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Here's the value of an Alaska education

  • Author: Holly Martinson
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 1
  • Published May 1

Around 400 graduates participated in the University of Alaska Anchorage class of 2016 fall commencement at the Alaska Airlines Center. Nearly 1,100 undergraduate, graduate and professional school students earning degrees were honored in the ceremony. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

I would like to thank the people of Alaska for the public education I received as a student of the Anchorage School District and the University of Alaska Anchorage. Three years ago, after receiving my Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in cancer biology, I returned to Alaska as a cancer researcher and educator.

As a student in the Anchorage School District, I received a well-balanced education that provided me with the knowledge I needed to be successful in college. My classes contained students from various backgrounds, abilities and socioeconomic status that positively influenced my education and the person I've become today.

At Klatt Elementary School, Mears Middle School and Dimond High School, I fell in love with science because my teachers were passionate about the subjects they taught. My education in the Anchorage School District benefited from reasonable class sizes and high teacher morale that allowed for individual attention and dedication of the instructors to stand out. I am concerned by current talk of cutting these high-quality instructors and by the negative tone that has permeated the conversation. The job insecurity and the lack of respect we give to teachers who are a pillar of our community will inevitably drive down morale and teaching quality.

At the end of my senior year, I received the UA Scholars Award for graduating in the top 10 percent of my class. I chose athletics over academics and began college in Utah under a full gymnastics scholarship only to realize that my ambition to become a scientist did not fit well with the 30-hours-per-week gymnastics schedule. I chose to return home to Alaska because of my academic UA Scholars Award, which provided the incentive and support I need to complete college. At UAA, I received a research grant and worked for three years under Dr. John Kennish in the ASET lab before deciding to go on to graduate school.

With the education and research opportunities I received through the UAA undergraduate research program, I was better prepared than other students from top-tier universities who had not had an in-depth research experience.  Every step of the public education system in Alaska is a success, preparing strong and disciplined thinkers who join the Alaska workforce and contribute to our economy and community.

Since returning to UAA in 2014, I've witnessed how budget cuts have severely affected the public education programs in Alaska, especially at UAA. Cuts to the University of Alaska budget have resulted in the suspension of programs, increased tuition, reduced class availability, and loss of top-ranked faculty to Lower 48 universities.

Our public education system in Alaska is suffering, and the burden will be passed on to our students and community. By cutting public education we are not only telling our teachers to do more with less, but we are sending a message to our students, and it's not a message of encouragement.

The students I talk to every day are excited and motivated to become Alaska's next doctors, teachers, engineers, nurses, lawyers, politicians or business leaders. These students need the support of the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the UA Scholars Programs to afford college financially and to follow their career paths here in the state of Alaska. I know this because I was one of those students and would not be here today without the public support and opportunities given to me through public education programs in Alaska. At UAA, I hope to encourage students to become who they want to be, as so many of my past teachers and mentors in Alaska have done for me.

Holly Martinson is a third-generation Alaskan, first-generation college student and a cancer biologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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