Director of Operations, The Arc of Anchorage
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Fun Fact: Enjoys camping and skidooing with her husband
When Barbara Rath (née Rodriguez) first attended UAA, shortly after graduating from Bartlett High in 1988, she knew she wanted to work with people, she just didn’t know how. She started college as a psychology major, figuring that would be the best way for her to achieve this goal. Then one of the earliest electives she took helped lead her to an even better way, social work.
“I took a social work class and really realized that I wanted to help people in that context and help them on that level instead of the traditional one-on-one,” says Barbara, who is currently director at The Arc of Anchorage. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is much more of a fit for me.’”
Eventually, the psychology major took on more and more social work and sociology classes until temporarily putting her education on hold a few years later. During this time off, Barbara moved to Fairbanks, worked various jobs, including a stint in retail, and started a family.
Barbara returned to school at UAF because she “had a really neat opportunity to work in an environment that offered me a living and real life experience.” The program involved teaching at a group home for troubled teenagers. Today, she praises this tie to real life for making her education that much stronger.
Shortly after getting her Bachelor of Social Work from UAF in 1999, Barbara moved her family back to Anchorage and entered into the local workforce again. She was a little further down this professional path when she realized the benefits more education could offer her. So Barbara returned to school again, this time electing to enroll in UAA’s Master of Social Work program. She chose it for the convenience and strength of the program. As she puts it, “It just made sense.”
“I love the social work department at UAA. It’s a small and personable group of professors,” Barbara says. “I loved having study groups with my cohorts in the Cuddy. Most of our classes were all within a walking radius. Especially when you’re a working adult with a family, the location, everything, was just really great.”
The biggest changes she noticed at UAA after her nearly 15-year absence were in diversity and technology. She treasures the latter for making registering for classes much easier and the former for enhancing the community. “Alaska is so beautiful. It’s a healthy state,” she says. “As a place of potential possibilities and growth, it’s attracted people to migrate here and I think the university has played a huge role in that.”
Barbara helps UAA expand those opportunities by serving as a field instructor for current social work practicum students every year. Students completing the practicum are given tangible experience with a local nonprofit, similar to the dual experience Barbara had in her own undergraduate career.
The students she mentors through the practicum serve alongside her at The Arc of Anchorage, a nonprofit dedicated to serving those with developmental disabilities or mental health issues. Barbara started working there not too long after she completed her master’s degree in 2006. She applied for a job opening on the suggestion of a friend who thought it’d be a great fit, was offered the position and quickly fell in love with the place.
“It’s an amazing place to be,” she says. “I love getting up and going to work every day because the people we serve, the people we’re trying to help, are the same people who are sometimes our coworkers. “It’s so neat to go to work and have people smiling at you and high-fiving you.”