Staff Spotlight: Lora Volden
Hometown: Deer River, Minn.
Fun Fact: Is an Iditarod super fan who can’t wait to cheer on Aliy Zirkle again this year.
Lora Volden, who took the helm as UAA’s registrar in spring 2012, is used to explaining exactly what it is she does.
“I don’t think anybody grows up thinking, ‘I’m going to be a university registrar.’ But I feel very fortunate that life took me in this direction,” says Lora. “It’s such a perfect job for me. It’s a big job, but it’s fun.”
The Office of the Registrar is what keeps the wheels turning for students, from their first contact with the university all the way through graduation and beyond. “If I’m doing a really good job, students may not even know I exist,” she says with a laugh.
“We’re the nuts and bolts support pieces to things that are ultimately going to help you achieve your degree,” Lora explains. Her office handles registration, degree audits, DegreeWorks, transcripts, applications for graduation, curriculum and room scheduling.
Working in higher education is like going to college for life
From the time Lora was five years old, she knew she wanted to go to college. She’s still not sure what put the idea in her head, but this first-generation college graduate now laughs that working in higher education is her way of fulfilling that childhood dream forever.
The first 18 years of her life, Lora didn’t venture too far from Deer River, a Northern Minnesota town so small the residents keep pretty good track of each other.
“My grandmother just told me there’s a faculty member over in CTC [Community and Technical College] who is also from Deer River,” she says with a smile. They haven’t run into each other yet.
“My first time out of the state of Minnesota was on a plane to Denmark,” she says. She was a college student seizing the opportunity to study abroad in Europe. And did she ever pick an interesting time in history.
“I was able to see the Berlin Wall come down while I was there.”
Her dad had been a little nervous about her plans to study abroad when she was just 19.
“I reminded him that when he was my age, he was married with two kids and fighting in Vietnam and I would probably be okay,” Lora says.
Grandpa in the cheering section
Lora majored in applied psychology and human relations while attending St. Cloud State University.
“I had a grandfather who was incredibly encouraging and he would always say, ‘Education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you,’” Lora says.
“When I was an undergraduate, every month he would send me $5 from his social security check and that $5 made a big difference sometimes.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Lora opted to take some time to work in her field before tackling graduate school.
She spent a year and a half working as a counselor in a sexual assault program and was a hall director for a small, private college in Minnesota for a year.
“I think that break was really smart,” she says. “It helped me have a better idea of what I wanted to do in graduate school. If I’d gone straight through, I think I would’ve ended up with a degree I didn’t like.”
She earned a graduate degree in counseling from Idaho State University.
The part where Alaska gains two more Midwesterners
Colorado was the next stop for Lora, who was embracing places beyond the shivery-cold winters of Northern Minnesota (60-below!).
While working in higher ed in Colorado, she met her husband, Tory, a fellow Midwesterner.
“It’s a mixed marriage. My husband is from the bad side of the river—Wisconsin,” she says with a grin. “We have a couple bad days a year during football season.”
Shortly after they were married, Lora’s husband asked her, “What would you like to do now?”
“I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to live in Alaska,’ and he said, ‘Alright, let’s go,” Lora says.
He found work first, as a residence hall coordinator for UAA’s West Hall. And two weeks after they arrived in Anchorage, Lora was hired as director of New Student Orientation.
That was 2001. Since then, Alaska and UAA have been home for these two. And they’ve embraced all the benefits of life in Anchorage, skiing and hiking with their “crazy spoiled” dogs and enjoying the view with their “sassy” cat.
“My family thinks it’s hilarious that I’ve become this outdoor enthusiast here because I didn’t do anything outdoors there,” she says. “Partly I didn’t have the right gear there. That makes such a huge difference.”
In their dozen years with UAA, Tory and Lora have been busy making themselves indispensable. Tory now works as an academic advisor for the School of Nursing. Lora says they try to limit the shop talk on the drive home from work.
Lora and Tory also managed to sneak another Midwesterner over the Alaska-Canada border this last year when their niece, Alexis, came up as a transfer student to UAA.
It’s been eye-opening for Lora, watching as Alexis navigates the systems and sites Lora’s office oversees.
“Once you’re in it for even 10 minutes, you lose that objective view,” Lora says. “It’s helpful to see where she’s gotten stuck along the way.”
Nerding out on the Iditarod
When Lora isn’t improving things at work, she and Tory are cheering for the Seawolves in the stands. As Midwestern code dictates, they are hockey fans.
Lora also fesses up to being a huge Iditarod fan.
“I have an old college roommate who is in the music industry. We call her the rock and roll princess because she hobnobs with all these celebs and I’m just so oblivious,” Lora laughs. “I could be in a room with anybody famous and not know it. But get me around the mushers and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I touched Martin Buser!’”
Two years ago she saw Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore in the Fairbanks airport and admits to swooning just a bit.
She admires musher Aliy and her team for their incredible endurance. “She’s going to win this year,” says Lora.
Let your schedule stitch itself together
Not unlike the mushers who pick apart the race course one stretch at a time, Lora and her team look for the hold-ups in navigating the university system that might be frustrating or stalling students.
They’ve shaved weeks off of the paperwork processing times for applications for graduation and transcript evaluation, to mention just a couple improvements. Next, Lora’s team is really excited to roll out new student scheduling software, hopefully in February 2014.
Students, take note. Life might just get a little easier when you go to register for summer and fall 2014.
“When you open up registration, you can say, ‘I want to take these five classes,’ hit submit and it will show you all the possible combinations of your schedule,” says Lora.
And you can tweak it to make it even smarter by adding preferences. “You can say, ‘I’m an athlete and I know I’ll need to be in practice every day from 3–5.’ It’ll block out those times and narrow the search,” she continues.
They’re implementing that process improvement knowing it will make meetings with advisors more productive. Instead of both the student and advisor spending their time hunting for a Tuesday morning class, they can talk about internships and goals for the future.
“It’s going to have a really positive impact,” says Lora. Much like Lora’s years with the university.