I AM UAA: Doug Markussen

October 5, 2011

UAA engineering alum Doug MarkussenB.S. Civil Engineering ’86
Hometown: Anchorage, AK
UAA EHS Deputy Director
Fun Fact: He’s a self-taught, award-winning artist

With the Eagles playing softly in the background, Doug Markussen works from his office in the back hall of the south wing at UAA’s University Lake Building. As one of the university’s Environmental Health & Safety Officers, Doug’s motto is “safety first.” A retired civil engineer and UAA grad, he feels like his current role is a way to give back to the place where he earned his degree.

One way to meet Doug is through a UAA HR New Employee Orientation safety presentation. Wooing new university employees with free Spikies (winter cleats for your shoes), fire extinguisher training, blood borne pathogen education and much more, he is an approachable guy and it is quickly apparent there is more to him that meets the eye.

“I’m an artist,” he declares. “Pencil sketching, clay modeling, wood sculpturing, painting, oil, charcoal, acrylics, stained glass–I dabble in all of it. And everything I’ve done I’ve figured out on my own.”

His work is impressive, but it’s not something he does commercially. Although he has been interested in art since youth, he entered college in the early ’80s with his sights set on becoming a math teacher.

“I quickly realized that if I was going to study that much math, I may as well work in a capacity where I’ll earn more money,” he laughs. Hence, a degree in civil engineering, followed by 20 years as a practicing engineer. Most of those two decades were spent in San Diego, Calif., where he lived, raising two children. Unfortunately, the move back to Alaska was prompted by a series of misfortunes. Fortunately, it also led to Doug reacquainting with a long lost love.

The series of misfortunes started with a mining job Doug took after retiring from his career as a civil engineer. Working for a private company as a mining reclamation consultant, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the building industry fizzled in the mid-2000s. Losing his job led to losing his wife, and to losing his house–all within about a month. Down on his luck and finding himself suddenly single, he decided it was time to move back “home.”

Little did he know that moving back to Alaska would lead to him reuniting with an old girlfriend. When he tells the whole story, it plays out like a movie:

“Right out of high school, I was working as a draftsman for the DOT over by Lake Hood,” he says. “One day this beautiful young thing showed up at work and caught my eye. I mustered up my courage and asked her out on a date. Her oldest sister worked with me in the same department and she was encouraging as we started dating. Unfortunately, as we got serious her parents said it had to stop because she was several years younger than me. So they literally broke us up. She was 16, I was 21.”

That summer, right as Doug moved out of state for his A.A., the young lady moved to Anchorage from her hometown of Cohoe and came looking for him at the DOT–but he was already gone. With no good way to contact each other, they each followed their own life path: Doug returning to Alaska for his civil engineering degree and then leaving the state again to practice in California; her eventually taking a position at UAA. It wasn’t until 2008, after returning 20 years later from California, that he reacquainted with the girl, Randi, who he found on Classmates.com. “We began really dating as adults and got married about a year later, in December 2009.”

Coincidentally, Randi and Doug both work at UAA now, she in Human Resources and he in Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S). “We work in the same building; that’s about as much as our jobs overlap,” he laughs.

The EH&S department is a service organization of the university, not regulatory, whose main objective is to protect the resources on campus–the principle of which are the people. Doug, one of a small team of four, stays busy through everything from overseeing OSHA requirements to safety trainings to work station ergonomic assessments for the Anchorage campus as well as UAA’s community campuses in Mat-Su, Prince William Sound, Kenai, Kodiak and Homer.

“One of the things that I like most about working at UAA is that I have an expanded view of the community,” says Doug. “When you’re in a degree program, you’re so focused on what you’re doing, you don’t necessarily know what everyone around you does. Now, I get to meet all sorts of different people and hear their stories–about research programs going on, experiments, archeology and outlying communities. I thrive on that; I love it because it’s like continuing education without actually being in a classroom.”

UAA continues to be a family affair for the Markussens, too. Doug’s son and daughter and Randi’s daughter each have plans for college: respectively, the EMT program as soon as there’s an opening, starting this fall in journalism and beginning a degree in nutrition. And as Doug considers what to do after his second retirement, well, UAA could offer him options, too: “I’m still toying with the idea of becoming adjunct faculty, maybe in math,” he says.

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