Assistant Director for Student Leadership, UAA Student Life & Leadership
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Fun Fact: Is a huge Chicago Bears fan
Back in 2010, Paula Urtubey-Fish and her husband, Chris, were in the process of getting ready to move to Alaska. Chris, who fell in love with the state after doing an internship in Bethel, had applied for a commission with the Public Health Service and the pair was waiting out the long application process.
She figured she’d look for a job once they finally moved up here. And if she couldn’t find anything right away, then she’d spend the days hanging out with her 6-month-old daughter. That plan changed though when one of her colleagues at the University of Illinois said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re moving to Alaska. Here’s this job posting.’ The posting was for assistant director for student leadership at UAA.
“And it was perfect,” said Paula, who was then the assistant director for student activities at the University of Illinois. “It was kind of like a mirror position. With this position, I’d work with student clubs, student government… Something I hadn’t really done before. It was a new experience within the scope of what I like to do: working with students.”
So she applied and got the job—months before any of her husband’s paperwork went through. “It was funny because I was ready to go. I found my job. It was touch and go for a while, but it worked out.” They moved to Anchorage in June 2010 and her husband eventually got that commission.
Paula first discovered her passion for working with students during graduate school in 2003. A master’s student in human resource education at the University of Illinois, she planned to get a job at a company and do human resource development and training. Then her final year of school, she got an assistantship in the Office of Minority Student Affairs as a graduate counselor. Her job was to provide support service to students who were on probationary status, had lower GPAs and/or lower standardized test scores. Students who maybe didn’t look great on paper, but “there was something about them that really made the university want them there.” So Paula, who herself had a graduate counselor her freshman year at the school, would connect them with clubs and organizations, help with time management skills, talk about their grades and inform them about campus resources. Anything to help the students stay in school and reach their full potential.
As Paula put it, “These students, like any other students, need a little bit of attention, but they can accomplish a lot.”
Once she saw the positive impact she could have on students before they even reached the workforce, her career path changed completely. She finished the human resource program since she only had a semester left, but knew she would go into higher education, not some big company, after that.
Of her current position at UAA—the same one she applied for and received two years ago, she says, “Professionally, it’s wonderful for me. I’m very passionate about leadership. I’m very passionate about developing students to be leaders because I believe that with the right tools, students and individuals in general can create a better world. I’m able to put that passion to work here on campus.”
In particular, she praises the fact that UAA, especially in comparison to a big, older school like University of Illinois, has a lot of opportunities to take an idea and run with it, to create and develop something new.
She’s taken advantage of this to start a new program, Emerging Leaders. Established last fall with the help of other staff and faculty, the program offers a two-year curriculum aimed at developing students into successful leaders and “citizens of the world” by connecting them with mentors who are already leaders in the campus community and by teaching them the skills needed to enact positive change.
“It’s in its second year and the feedback’s been positive,” Paula said. “People are excited about what we’re trying to do.”
While she appreciates UAA’s youthful lack of red tape, she notes that she does miss all the tradition that comes with being part of an older school. She hopes that is something else she can impart to students though: to take pride in their school, its history, its community and to say, loud and proud, “I’m a Seawolf!”