Student Spotlight: Shenjie Onato

September 17, 2014
I AM UAA: Shenji Onato

I AM UAA: Shenjie Onato, Class of 2015. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Class of 2015, double majoring in management and marketing
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
Fun Fact: Runs the Daily Den, the “living room of campus.”

Did you know UAA has a cozy space for commuter students—really, any students—to put their feet up between classes? Host Shenjie Onato, student manager of the Daily Den in the Student Union, makes sure people feel welcome and keeps up a steady rotation of snacks for visitors who want to hang out by the fireplace in the lounge. Cookies and milk or hot dogs or fruits and veggies, the menu of free snacks changes weekly, as do the faces in the crowd. This year you’ll also enjoy Shenjie’s contribution toward a more sustainable campus—all recyclable and compostable plates, bowls, napkins and flatware, the result of a Green Fee grant.

“The Den is the living room of campus,” Shenjie said with a big smile. He loves meeting new people every day in his new role at the Daily Den. And he’s always up for a chat with the regulars, his “Den friends.”

When Shenjie first arrived at UAA, a transfer student from UAS, he admitted he felt a little lost. Although he’d made the move from Juneau to Anchorage with two good friends, it still felt too easy to get lost among the thousands of students on campus. Then last year, he joined the Student Union & Commuter Student Services staff and found his tribe.

“I’m creating my own family here with friends. It sounds kind of corny, but we see each other as a big family here,” he said of his team. “Even when we’re not working, we all congregate here.”

A double-major in management and marketing, Shenjie is anticipating a May 2015 graduation date and looking at graduate program opportunities in student affairs, something he didn’t know he loved until he got involved at UAA last year.

“Helping other people feel that sense of belonging on campus—we cater to commuter students, but we don’t only help the commuter students, we help everyone—but helping them helped me feel like I belong in this community. I am happy I can be a resource to them and can enrich their college experience,” he said.

Shifting expectations and going green

He laughs now about his initial reluctance to take on Daily Den duties. As an employee with Student Union & Commuter Student Services, Shenjie worked at the Info Desk, checked out equipment from the Gear Room and helped set up/clean up events in the Student Union. When he was tapped to help with Daily Den, he first said, “I don’t want to serve food!” But just a couple shifts in, he found it played to his strengths. He loved meeting new people and helping them plug into the campus community. By late spring, he was applying to be the new manager and soliciting student input on how to make the Daily Den better. Students wanted to see more green products being used, so Shenjie, in total agreement, applied to the Green Fee Board and was granted funds to purchase a year’s worth of Green Alaska Solutions products.

“Baby steps,” he said. “We live in Alaska, we’re surrounded by wilderness, so sustainability should be important to us.”

Global connections

The opportunity to forge new connections, hopefully around the globe, is what drew Shenjie to UAA’s management and marketing programs. He’s continually inspired by the professors with deep professional backgrounds in the College of Business and Public Policy who bring their industry experience into the classroom.

“I really enjoy going to their classes, because it’s not all about the theory,” he said. “They bring the real world into the class and tell their stories and tie it back to the theory we’re learning about. They bring the class to life.”

With graduation just around the corner, Shenjie is looking toward the future and deciding where he wants to be. Maybe a thriving metropolis like Vancouver, B.C., a spot he visited often with friends once his family moved from Hawaii to Washington when he was just a pre-teen.

Any path he chooses, his leadership role as a Student Union & Commuter Student Services staffer is good experience, he said. It’s a solid foundation whether he wants to join the corporate world or advance his education in student affairs and make his mark on another college campus, ensuring a diverse student body can come together and find places to belong.

“Working here at the Student Union & Commuter Student Services immerses you in the UAA community,” he said. “We’re the heart of the university.”


Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement 

University of Alaska Anchorage - University Advancement
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