I am UAA: Kent Spiers, Sociology and Environmental Studies student

March 16, 2011

Canadian Kent Spiers moved to Alaska knowing only one person. But after immersing himself in UAA’s student life, he’s become an active student leader on campus.

UAA student Kent Spiers

In Toronto, Ontario, Kent worked as a retail store manager for 10 years. After he saw the film “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore, he was inspired to leave his job to pursue college. “I asked myself ‘how am I making a positive contribution to the world?’ And I decided that I needed to get a college degree to do something with more impact on the world.”

Kent began his college career at York University. He eventually journeyed to Alaska on a one-week trip to reconnect with his partner. “While visiting, I fell in love with Alaska. I knew I had to move here.” Kent made the move to Anchorage official in 2008.

As an international transfer student, UAA and Alaska were both foreign to Kent. “I was worried about being the older guy in class, but I eventually figured out UAA wasn’t like that at all.”

When Kent made his transition to UAA, he decided to become more involved with the University and submerge himself in the campus-life community. “Going to college gave me a chance to become a part of a new social life.”

Kent is currently president of the International Student Association (ISA) where he helps international students navigate the UAA system, adjust to Alaska and engage with the community and member of the UAA National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), an internationally recognized non-profit leadership organization working with agencies and institutions to build inclusive campuses and communities. He also joined UAA’s sociology club and The Family, the campus LGBT group, and does research for Alaska Food Projects. On top of all of those activities, he also works part-time for the Office of Sustainability as an administrative assistant.

In his time at UAA, Kent has led projects like the ‘oneShirt’ National Collegiate Clothing Drive that collected 867 pounds of used clothing that was donated to Big Brothers, Big Sisters Anchorage. He also organized and was a speaker on the “History of Civil Rights in Canada” event for UAA Alaska Civil Rights month.

Kent’s involvement at UAA is still growing. He was recently part of the team of students, staff and faculty who advocated that the UA Board of Regents amend the current UA non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity, following the trend of some 400 public colleges and universities across the nation. The Board of Regents approved the amendment in February. Kent said, “Feeling the impact of doing the right thing keeps me motivated to stay active in the community.”

UAA is a great place to begin advocating for the things you believe in or to serve the community, according to Kent. “UAA gives people the ability to get involved and to make a significant change.” He offers advice to those looking to become more involved and make a difference, “Just being present at an event has an impact. Attend a meeting or bake cookies for a club’s bake sale. The smallest act can really make a difference,” Kent said.

Although Kent has made a name for himself on campus, like many students, he still struggles with paying for his education. “As an international student, if I don’t find a way to pay for classes, register before deadline or fall below 12 credits, my VISA is revoked and I must leave the U.S.” Kent also can’t work more than 20 hours at the University or work anywhere off-campus. “I’m constantly looking for scholarships and tuition waivers to apply for so I can continue college, and it makes it hard because I can’t work as much as I’d like.”

Kent has applied and received many scholarships and tuition waivers, but sometimes it isn’t enough to cover the cost of the non-resident tuition he has to pay. Last semester, Kent went to Bruce Schultz, vice chancellor of student affairs, for help. “I told him I needed a hand-up and not a handout. I wanted to stay in Alaska and finish school. I love it here.”

In August 2010, Marva Watson, Diversity and Compliance director, and Bruce discussed Kent’s service and involvement at UAA and the many ways he contributes to strengthening the UAA community. When Kent met with Bruce later that semester, he learned that he received a tuition waiver, but never received it. “The paperwork got lost somewhere. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t talked to Bruce. I was pretty nervous, because he was my last hope,” Kent said.

Receiving a scholarship or tuition waiver has made the difference in Kent being able to stay at UAA and finish his college career. “It means the world to me that people give to the University. It’s those people and my professors that have allowed me to continue school at UAA.”

Kent plans to continue advocating and staying active in his community after graduating from UAA. “I want to promote Canada as a Canadian consulate, perhaps work on public policy in Whitehorse, YT, and possibly become the Prime Minister of Canada.”

Through his experience at UAA, Kent has found that as a student, you can challenge the status quo and exceed your expectations for success and community engagement. “All you have to do is be willing to stay true, strong and free.”

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