13 students, 1 mission
Hometowns: Alaska born and raised, and adventurers from Outside
Fun Fact: Raised $88,595 from 893 donors during fall semester 2012
It’s 7 o’clock at night and you’re about to sit down to dinner. The phone rings.
“Hi, this is Cassandra West, from the University of Alaska Anchorage! How are you this evening?”
You consider hanging up. But there is something about Cassandra’s eager voice and your past connection with UAA that keeps you on the line a moment longer.
You learn that Cassandra is calling to give you some updates about campus life and wants to know if you’d be interested in supporting the university through a small monetary donation.
Some people may not know this, but almost every university has a program like this: student callers reaching out to alumni to help support their education on campus. At UAA, we call it Phonathon. And the students on the other end of these lines are just as interested in how UAA alumni have carved out their lives post graduation as they are in bringing in support.
“Being able to speak with alumni of all ages, every day, is an amazing experience,” Cassandra says. “I can hear life stories, get advice and learn things from all sorts of different people from around the country.”
Cassandra, a senior English major, is one of 13 students whose job it is throughout the semester to re-connect with alumni. Sure, one of the larger goals is to engage alumni in donating to the university, but these students insist that it is really much more than that.
“It gets the alumni back in touch with the UAA community and what’s going on here and now,” says Sarriena Ivins, a 23-year-old freshman with her eyes on bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing. “Talking with alumni is one of my favorite aspects of the job.”
“One of the best moments on the job this semester was when I talked to an elderly man about Alaska and my childhood growing up on a commercial fishing boat,” says Alix Oyler, who is studying medical laboratory science. “He found my life so amazing and we had a wonderful conversation.”
From self-described “military brats” to Alaskans born and raised, this group of students is as diverse as they are connected in their mission. Their majors range from the already aforementioned nursing, English and lab science to economics, accounting, biological sciences, history, business, environmental studies, civil engineering and culinary arts. They are involved in Residence Life, USUAA, the school paper The Northern Light and even starting their own clubs. Sarriena is pursuing nursing because her mother has multiple sclerosis. Next semester she plans to launch the club Smyelin for Myelin to help raise awareness and community involvement with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“I want to be a nurse so I can be there for people and help so that, within my power, no one has to go through what I went through as a child [with a mom struggling with MS]; that they will have someone to help them through it,” say Sarriena.
Cassandra chose English because of her “amazing English teachers” in high school, where she one day hopes to teach.
Madison Littlefield, on the cusp of graduating this coming spring, has “loved history as long as I can remember.” And it is the transferrable skills like the large amounts of research and analysis when studying history that Madison hopes will prepare her well for her next goal: law school in California.
Evan Dodd, a junior studying economics, and Josh Smith, a junior in accounting, are both hoping their choice of majors will set them up for a secure job future.
Alix wants to stay in Anchorage after she earns her bachelor’s in medical laboratory science and work in a local hospital or private clinic.
Taylor Frese sees her biological sciences degree as a road from a passion for studying arctic marine life to working with marine mammals with a rescue and research center in the future.
“UAA was an easy choice,” says Taylor, who was born in Florida but always had a strong desire to come to Alaska.
“Overall, UAA has been a very good school that has treated me well,” says Madison. “And I like being able to do a little extra for the university.”
The Phonathon gig is a job to these students—a way to better afford tuition and books or have some extra spending money for the movies, or books—and like any job, it is teaching them invaluable lessons that they’ll be able to take with them once they graduate.
Perseverance, drive and initiative, being well organized and keeping a positive attitude. And they take their job as spokespeople for the university seriously.
“Students reaching out to alumni and potential donors show that it’s for a legitimate and good cause,” says Sarriena.
“I think that students have more of an impact on donors because we share a common perspective on life at UAA,” says Evan. “As students, we are able to relate to common experiences that donors may have had when they were students.”
“It is important for students to reach out to alumni because it is the students that their donations benefit directly,” Madison says.
These students approach every phone call as a new opportunity. Every donation feels unexpected and surprising to them, and they recognize that every gift counts.
“Alumni participation and their desire to help the UAA community does make a huge difference,” says Sarriena.
“I definitely have a greater appreciation for those who choose to give back to the university,” says Evan. “So many of our donations are small amounts given by hard-working alumni, and it’s very inspiring to see them choose to help their former school.”
So whether these Phonathon Callers are breaking into spontaneous renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody between calls, celebrating larger gifts (props to Chandler Porter, a junior studying environment and society, who fostered an incoming $15,000 gift this semester!), or taking snack breaks as they check in with their “all-star supervisors,” as they turn back to their phones to make that next call, they just hope to make a connection, no matter how small.
And then you can get back to your dinner. Feeling good that this group has the university’s best interests at heart. That they are the university’s best interest. They are the university’s heart.
Special thanks to all the Student Phonathon Callers from fall 2012!
Jonathon Carriker, culinary arts, Class of 2014 • Evan Dodd, economics, Class of 2015 • Taylor Frese, biological sciences, Class of 2014 • Tiffany Hobbs, psychology, Class of 2015 • Dylan Hull, civil engineering, Class of 2017 • Sarriena Ivins, nursing, Class of 2018 • Madison Littlefield, history, Class of 2013 • Amey Messerschmidt, undeclared, Class of 2016 • Fiona Obay, business, Class of 2016 • Alix Oyler, medical laboratory science, Class of 2016 • Chandler Porter, environment and society, Class of 2014 • Josh Smith, accounting, Class of 2015 • Cassandra West, English, Class of 2014
And to the 893 donors who connected with them and gave of their time and money, as well as to all our past and future callers and donors who make UAA strong.