Office Manager for Dept. of Health, Physical Education and Recreation
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Fun Fact: Has donated 12 gallons of blood since June 2005
Next to Cathy Dunham’s desk in UAA’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) is a “response ready” backpack. It contains light sticks, a flashlight, a hard hat, a reflective vest, maps of campus and the neighboring trail systems and other emergency response-related items. On her hip: a pager. She is ready at a moment’s notice should the University Police (UPD) need help with any number of campus incidents: a burning building, a missing student, a bomb threat or even a citywide disaster that turns UAA into a community shelter.
In addition to her duties as office manager for HPER, Cathy volunteers her time with UAA’s Police Auxiliary Emergency Team. As a chapter of the national Volunteers In Police Service (VIPS), UAA’s auxiliary team is trained and on-call to assist with much of “the grunt work” that comes with policing during large campus incidents: directing crowds and traffic, evacuating buildings and basic first aid, to name a few.
Cathy has been a member of the team since its inception in 2007, the impetus for which was a gas leak in Beatrice McDonald Hall, when there were only three UPD officers on duty to manage four entrances to the building.
“That incident made them realize the need for more help and part of why the auxiliary group was started,” Cathy says. “Lieutenant Ron Swartz has been so good at getting us opportunities for education. He combines a lot of FEMA training with the VIPS training.”
But Cathy’s involvement with the team doesn’t stop at a backpack and a pager. She takes full advantage of the training offered through the auxiliary program and has even gone beyond the call of duty, graduating from the Anchorage Police Department’s Citizens Academy last fall, volunteering the past three years in the city’s airport disaster preparedness training and, simply, being a good neighbor.
“My background is in nursing and I’ve always had a respect for law and order,” she says, explaining her particular interest in emergency preparedness. “But my very top priority is being a Christian; that’s really my basis for wanting to volunteer. To be a good neighbor and to put others first.”
And Cathy has been a volunteer her entire life, whether it has been with her church or at her sons’ schools. Volunteering is what brought her to Alaska in the first place.
Cathy grew up in California and met her husband, Keith, in the early ’70s at Grossmont Community College in San Diego, where she earned a degree in nursing in 1973. The couple was married by 1974 and decided to move to the Bay Area so Keith could take a job at an electronics company in Silicon Valley. After some complications with trying to start a family, the couple decided to make a big move in 1980 and head to Alaska to volunteer with The Navigators, a parachurch organization with a component dedicated to military ministry.
“I came to Alaska for a six-year commitment over 30 years ago!” Cathy likes to joke.
Right as they were gearing up to head north, one of Cathy and Keith’s prayers were answered and they began the process of adopting their first son, Jason. He moved with them and a year and a half later, Josh was born. With her hands suddenly full with two kids, Cathy focused on the homestead while Keith worked as an electrician and carpenter at Range Control on Fort Richardson, in the midst of their volunteer work with The Navigators. As her sons got older, they decided to move in order to be near Wendler Middle School. And with the move, came the need for Cathy to go back to work full-time—enter UAA.
“I began with UAA in 1994 with the Small Business Development Center,” she says. “I started out as the receptionist and gradually worked my way through the various positions before becoming office manager. I was there for about seven years and then applied for a job on campus with HPER. I began as the program assistant for the coaching certification program, then was in charge of scheduling and curriculum and now office manager.
“I love who I work for and I love my staff. We just really work together well as a team. UAA has been a terrific place to work for 17 years—a really positive experience.”
And Cathy’s goal, especially since joining the auxiliary emergency team, is to make UAA a positive experience for everyone on campus. In the event of an emergency, and especially between emergencies (there aren’t really that many), she is here to help, to educate and to serve. All of which doesn’t go unnoticed: Her years of service earned her a Community Hero Award last year, nominated by Lt. Swartz for “her enthusiasm…as an inspiration for the other members” and as a team leader “serving as a liaison between the volunteer responders and the police commanders.” She is a regular fixture at community readiness fairs, volunteers to assist in annual evacuation drills and has had perfect attendance at monthly team meetings and training sessions—even facilitating a few of the sessions herself in the absence of Lt. Swartz.
“The Community Hero Award took me completely by surprise,” Cathy says, adding humbly, “the other two award recipients actually rescued people!”
It is with this modesty that she serves. And this is the quality of hero sitting in the office manager position in HPER.
See Cathy and her fellow volunteers represent UAA in the VIPS video “Community Involvement in Campus Safety.”
And she wants to remind UAA employees that the team is open to any staff or faculty member interested in volunteering. Contact her at email@example.com or Lt. Ron Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.