Special Events Coordinator, Campus Bookstore
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Fun Fact: Can be seen riding around town in the sidecar of a red motorcycle
Odds are you’re familiar with UAA’s Campus Bookstore and all the special events it hosts year-round: panel discussions, faculty author showcases, visiting speakers, chocolate tastings…
But are you familiar with the very first faculty author event? It happened in 2000. The whole bookstore staff “was excited to do something big.”
So they set aside a day to do one big faculty author celebration: 23 authors, 15 minutes each—kind of like speed readings. The bookstore was decorated with huge laminated posters of the participating faculty and their book covers. Actual invitations, not just emails, were sent out. “It was a huge endeavor,” Rachel said. “We didn’t do 23 people in one day again.”
Although they haven’t done anything as over-the-top since, the special events at the bookstore have continued to grow over the past 12 years. Rachel, born in San Diego, but raised in Fairlawn, N.J., and Roslyn Heights, N.Y., deserves many kudos for that. (In fact, her work at the bookstore recently earned her a Contributions to Literacy in Alaska Award.)
Throughout her life, Rachel has worked in bookstores, libraries and hostels around the country—all places for people to meet and exchange ideas.
Rachel was working at the Cotel International Hostel in Venice Beach, Calif., in 1993 when she decided to take a vacation to Alaska. She booked her ticket and swapped one hostel for another, staying at the International Hostel in Mountain View. One of the people she met was Larry Meadows, former city manager of Barrow. Larry liked to show people around and talk about Alaska.
In addition to the travels, Larry gave her a gift she’s grateful for to this day: his frequent flyer miles. “He told me that I had a connection here and should return.”
A year later, she returned to the International Hostel in Mountain View where, on the first day back, she met her future life partner, Brian.
Shortly after meeting, “on Memorial Day weekend, Brian, myself and some friends went to the Hunters Creek Blue Grass Festival,” Rachel said. “The next week we went to Hicks Creek Campground. Every night we’d stay out late… Brian and I traveled around Alaska in his 1970 black VW Bug. He’s a big part of my Alaska experience and I feel very fortunate to share my life with him.”
They no longer have that VW Bug, but they do have two other classic vehicles in their fleet now: a Russian Ural sidecar and a weathered 15-foot dogsled (probably from Kotzebue, she says). The dogsled came from Duane’s Antique and Auction House and sits in the couple’s living room, where it’s a popular napping spot for their cats. The sidecar they ride around in Anchorage. Although there are a few similar motorcycles in town, they have the only red one.
In that first year, Rachel also learned a lot about the state through her first job here, conducting phone surveys for Hellenthal and Associates. “That was my introduction to the whole picture of Alaska. I learned the map of Alaska. Heard different people speak on the phone—when they didn’t hang up,” Rachel laughed. She helped with a political survey, milk survey and business survey that summer.
Shortly after, Rachel took another temporary job doing surveys. This time it was for UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER). They were conducting a statewide survey on the fishing business. After ISER, Rachel found temporary work in the textbook department at the Campus Bookstore. Then she moved to a staff position in the department and, five years later, applied for the special events coordinator position.
Since stepping into that position, Rachel, who graduated from UC-Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s in history and studied Tibetan philosophy, history and language at the University of Washington, has worked to make the events a way to bring people together.
“I want the university to grow, be more inclusive. I want events on campus to keep growing. It really is on my mind to keep an open environment,” Rachel said.
After that first event of 23 faculty readings, the event topics gradually moved away from books toward themes. There are still events anchored by books, but most events focus on providing the UAA community with a place for expressing their ideas.
For the events, according to Rachel, the quality of discourse is pretty high, not because of big words or concepts, but because people really want to talk, have that discussion and be open to interact with the public.
Rachel curates the events by asking what faculty members are up to via the faculty listserv, seeing if there’s a guest speaker in town, maintaining relationships with university departments and even browsing the textbooks at the bookstore to see who’s teaching what.
According to Rachel, a lot of the work is just about finding out who’s here. And then figuring out how we can all learn from each other.