Run past that point where you’re tired. Run until you’ve surrounded yourself with the people you want to be. Cross the finish line together. This is Mike Ulroan’s life.
“There’s only one thing I really know. You don’t give up,” says Mike. “If you want something and it’s important to you, you won’t give up.”
In May, after eight years, he will accept his hard-earned degree in civil engineering.
This group is different—they’re not just college students, they’re entrepreneurs and their business is all about their fledgling startup: gearspoke.com.
“I think it’s really exciting because we’re part of the peer-to-peer industry and there really isn’t anyone in Anchorage—in Alaska that’s doing this,” said Linda Janes, one of the company’s co-founders who is also the chief operations officer and marketer, and a current M.B.A. student at UAA.
Maintaining a 4.0 in the Master of Public Health program at UAA is not the hardest thing she’s done. This mom of eight kids homesteaded and ran a mid-distance sled dog kennel outside the burled arches of Nome with husband Brian, where she budgeted those cherished evening hours to train for the centennial running of the 408-mile All Alaska Sweepstakes Sled Dog Race.
“It took extreme dedication…” Read more of her story.
Jennifer Burns, Professor of Biological Sciences
For three years, when snow clouds gathered over Anchorage, Burns headed south, to 24-hour sunlight at McMurdo Station. She and her collaborators gathered data and are now processing them for a more complete picture of how Weddell seals travel, when and where they go, their diving depths, foraging behaviors, surrounding sea temperatures and breeding success.
Their timely work, sponsored by the National Science Foundation,will likely inform an important policy decision on whether to make parts of the Ross Sea a marine reserve. “It’s largely considered to be one of the last intact marine ecosystems,” Burns said.
Of course, once you’re an expert in one marine mammal, you get calls about lots of others. Burns is also writing up her work from a study she participated in regarding freshwater seals in Lake Iliamna. Collaboration with local agencies, anthropologists and village residents has created a hybrid scientific and Alaska Native analysis of the unique seal population.
Recently Burns contributed to a study published in the June 14 edition of Science magazine that explains how whales, seals and other marine mammals manage to dive and forage for long periods beneath the sea without surfacing for fresh air. The secret is their “positively charged” myglobin, a protein that carries oxygen in muscle cells. The positive charge lets marine mammals pack their cells with extra oxygen, and stay submerged longer. Read more here and here.
Maggie Dewhurst Miller, B.S. Psychology ’03, Honors College
Read more about Maggie here.
Kato-Kakala Ha’unga, A.A. ’11
You know the upbeat reggae song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin? If we could choose a theme song for Kato Ha’unga, that would be it. She radiates positive energy wherever she goes.
Kato (short for Kato-Kakala) was born in Anchorage to Tongan parents, who divorced before Kato turned 1. Her grandmother, Halapo’uli-Va’ati Kaufusi, and uncle, Latiume Kaufusi, raised Kato in her family’s native country so she’d be immersed in Tongan culture. After graduating from high school, Kato’s grandmother encouraged her to pursue a higher education off the island.
“She wanted me to go to America and learn how to stand on my own two feet,” Kato says. Kato returned to Alaska at her mother’s invitation, to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage.
In September 2009, when the devastating tsunami hit Tonga, her life changed. “All they [her family] kept talking about was all their books were wet and ruined,” Kato said. “I realized Tonga doesn’t have a public library and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to start a little library.’”
Thanks to the support of many organizations and individuals, she’s collected almost 50,000 books and collaborated with a community network to provide shipping of the literary payload. Renovations to the tsunami-ravaged building that will house the Northern Lights Library are underway while Kato continues to seek funding for completion.
Kato’s education and experiences make her a leader, not only in Anchorage, but also among her Tongan community back home.
“When I go back home, it’s like I’m a role model for all these youth,” she says. “Everything I learn here [at UAA], I take home with me. Education has sharpened my life and has equipped me to be the person I am today.” Read more about Kato in the Alaska Dispatch or here.
Jocelyn Krebs, Professor of Biological Sciences
“I am probably the only person, EVER, that when the geneticist called to say, ‘It’s a deletion on chromosome seven,’ knew exactly what that meant,” says Krebs.
The disorder affecting young Rhys is Williams Syndrome, caused by 25–30 genes missing on chromosome No. 7. It occurs in 1 out of 8,000 births.
Krebs is a molecular biologist with a passion for epigenetics, the study of all the “traffic signals” that turn genes on and off at precise moments in human development.
Her study of Williams Syndrome began about three years before her son’s birth, when a graduate student’s work with frogs led Krebs to Williams Syndrome Transcription Factor (WSTF).
WSTF plays a special role in human development. Imagine taking the DNA out of all the cells in your body; end-to-end, it would stretch to the sun. To fit all that genetic material into a single cell, your DNA gets compacted 100,000 times. WSTF can reach inside a cell, and at the precise moment, pull out the right gene.
Krebs suppressed WSTF in frogs by about half, the same level patients with Williams Syndrome experience. Neural crest stem cells failed to thrive and migrate to the correct part of the body to build tissue.
This discovery opens the door to possible treatments. Will the day come when missing WSTF in a developing fetus can be recognized early enough to overcome the deficit and lead to normal development?
While still a long way off, that possibility motivates Krebs. Read more.
Michelle Goolio, B.A. Social Work ’13
Michelle is the youngest of six from a family of Mongolian herders in the Gobi Desert. Tumenkhishig is her Mongolian first name; she adopted Michelle for ease of use in America. This May she graduated from UAA with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
Personal experience with the devastating affects of poor health care in her home country set Michelle on the path to UAA. Before she left Mongolia in 2006, her father struggled with illness, often traveling from their small town to the city to receive medical care. During these visits she recognized a need for a place for herders to stay in the city that provided a comfortable and safe environment. This fueled her passion for pursuing a career in social work.
“Herders are looked down upon, not respected,” she said. “Even though we had an appointment, they moved people ahead of him.” After years of poor care, her father died of a heart attack in 2009.
Since she’s left Mongolia, Michelle attended an English-as-a-second-language school in California, and after a year, traveled north to attend UAA. Her social work education, exposure to the Hickel House, Hospice and the Ronald McDonald House, as well as a practicum at the American Cancer Society, greatly influenced Michelle’s commitment to raise money to build a place for rural herders to stay when they’re in the city for medical care.
“It’s quite touching to participate in these classes,” Michelle said. With her internship experiences and guidance from mentors, she is taking her education back with her to Mongolia. Despite the challenging road ahead, she is determined to make a difference in her country. Read Michelle’s full story.
Anthony Paris, Associate Professor of Engineering
Sports concussions are familiar bad-news headlines.
Nationally, Super Bowl champ Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest at age 50, asking science to figure out what head blows did to his brain during his football career.
Locally, a flag football player suffered a severe concussion after she ran into a pillar during practice. After months of rehab, she asked to speak to a coaches’ clinic on the hazards of head injury.
“There’s just not enough information on the brain,” Lexi Stewart said. “The doctor we saw didn’t know. The emergency room didn’t know. How’s a coach supposed to know? How’s a parent supposed to know?
A team of engineers and undergraduates at UAA, led by Anthony Paris, are working hard to evolve a ‘smart’ mouth guard to measure forces that act upon a brain when it gets hit. The university has a patent pending on a device with six tiny accelerometer chips that measure impact. This bridge is embedded in an acrylic mouth guard modeled to snugly fit a wearer’s teeth and gums.
“If a kid skateboarding in the street hits his head on the curb, how do you know what happened? How do you treat him?“ Paris asks.
If that skateboarder was wearing an instrumented mouth guard, an EMT could download the data on the way to the hospital.
“In 20 years, no one’s going to be putting a ‘dumb’ piece of plastic in their mouth,” said electrical engineer John Lund. Read more here.