I decided to attend the university in Fairbanks, Alaska for several reasons. Some of them were very good reasons, others were rather esoteric, still others had emotional and psychological foundations.
One of the major factors in my decision was the purely romantic notion that I would be going to and living in “The Last Frontier”. My father had made a couple of trips to Fairbanks for professional reasons during my childhood. The pictures he brought home had made me think I would like to go live in Alaska.
Another factor was the cost. I have an older sister who is four years ahead of me in school. While she was going to college, I listened to my parents fight and argue regularly. A major source of their distress was how much it was costing them for her education. I swore to myself that I was not going to pick a place that was going to create that kind of havoc in my absence.
Picking a university was complicated by the fact that during the summer following my junior year in high school, our family moved from Colorado to California. Due to the interesting regulations the different states had about how they determined residency, I was applying as an out of state student in all 50 states.
Alaska was one of the few states whose out of state tuition was rather cheap. Not only that, but they considered you a resident if you stayed after your first year and waived the non-resident tuition from then on. A lot of places labelled you out of state when you matriculated and as long as you were attending, you paid out of state tuition.
I had just transferred from a very small high school to a pretty big one. At the school I attended in Colorado, the class I was in had 21 people in it. The senior class in San Diego had 740 people in it. I had suffered a huge culture shock in that move, and now I was contemplating another shock.
I looked at several universities. With the ACT and SAT scores I had, I was accepted with alacrity by every one I applied to. Somehow, I just couldn’t commit to attending an institution that boasted 30,000 students. I wanted someplace smaller, where I wouldn’t be lost.
I started perusing the college directories in the reference section of the library. I was looking for an accredited school, not too large. On a whim, I looked up Alaska, and discovered they had one university with two campuses: one in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks. Enrollment at the Fairbanks campus was about 7,000. It had an orchestra. The ratio of teachers to students was very good; it seemed that there was one professor for about every 120 students.
There was another statistic that caught my roving eye: the ratio of men to women was seven to one. I suppose I should be ashamed of myself, but I admit that my man-crazy, sick of Southern California surfer chick competition self thought, “With a ratio like that, I’ll bet I won’t have trouble finding someone to have fun with.” No, I did NOT tell my mother that that was one of the major reasons I decided I wanted to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, although I don’t suppose it would have surprised her much if I had.
UAF was delighted to have me. I found it amusing that the address for the University of Alaska in Fairbanks was actually College, AK. I packed my bedding, my long underwear, my other clothes, took my violin in hand and boarded a plane for the 2500 mile flight from San Diego, CA to Fairbanks, AK.
The Fairbanks International Airport was one of the smaller airports I had ever been through. It had three gates. Our flight arrived at 1 a.m., and as promised there was a van from the student housing office there to transport us to the dormitories. On the trip there, I was astonished by how green it was, and how many hanging baskets of flowers there were.
Personnel met us at the housing office and assigned us to our rooms, gave us keys, and pointed us in the direction of the room assigned to us. I was lucky. I did not have to drag my belongings down to the lower campus. My dorm, Moore Hall, was part of the complex of three dormitories where the housing office was located.
The next day, we were given a tour of the campus, some orientation lectures, and tested within an inch of our lives. Lots of freshmen were from the bush in Alaska and foreign countries, and there were many people who got assigned to bonehead math and remedial English classes. I succeeded in earning my way to a start a little farther up the curriculum list.
After they had figured out just how fresh a freshman I was, I got to meet with my adviser. At that time, UAF was not a very big school, and all available personnel were required to provide advising to the students. Because I was from out of state and I had not declared a major, my adviser was Unversity President William R. Wood.
When I saw my advisor assignment, I thought for sure it had to be a mistake, but the Registrar set me straight and I proceeded down the halls of the Bunnell Building and entered the outer sanctum. The secretary seated out there checked her list, and since I was the first comer, told me to go right on in. “The President will see you now,” she said, a combination of words that I honestly never thought I would hear in my lifetime. “He’s not busy right now.”
And so, I entered the office. It has been 35 years since that day, and I don’t remember much except that there were wood panelled walls and an amazing oil painting of Mount McKinley on the wall. The man himself was tall, thin and white haired.
Since I was a freshman, there weren’t a lot of decisions to make about what courses I was going to take. We got that business sorted out fairly quickly, and then proceeded to have a conversation.
President Wood asked me how my trip was (long and tiring), why I decided to come here (I didn’t mention the male/female ratio), and several other things. Finally, he asked me if I was settling in to the dorms okay (Yes, indeedy). Then he asked me if there was anything he could do to help me out, to make things easier.
Well, some people would describe me as brash. I had just spent the morning trying to put my clothes away. When I packed to come, luggage space was at a premium. We had not packed any hangars at all, we hadn’t even thought of it. I had struggled with the problem of what to do with a long black formal, my overcoat, and a few other items that really didn’t seem like they should be folded and stored in drawers. To top it off, no one else had any hangars either.
So I told him about this problem, and suggested that perhaps that might be something on the list of items that the incoming freshman should bring. He nodded, and then said, “Let me see if I can help you out here. I have a lot of stuff cleaned, you know. I have to wear suits.” He said this as if it was a nuisance. “Let me see if we don’t have some extra hangars at home.”
He got on the phone and had a short conversation with his wife. After he hung up, he asked, ”Do you know where the President’s House is?”
“Oh, yes. I’m assigned to Moore Hall and I have to walk right by it to get there.”
“Well, you just stop by there on your way up the hill and my wife will give you some hangars.”
That was exactly what I did. When I rang the doorbell, Mrs. Wood was in the middle of a faculty tea, but she graciously greeted me and handed me a box of about 300 hangars. They were all neatly bundled and tied together with string. I had a vision of her handing them around to all the faculty wives and having them bundle them up as I was walking there from the Lower Campus.
I thanked her sincerely, and carried my prize back to the dorm. I only needed about 15 of the provided largesse, but there were plenty of other people who needed hangars. I rapidly became very popular as I shared them around. It turned out to be a great ice breaker, and who would have thought it?
And so my life in Alaska began.