University tries to increase number of Native doctoral students

Fairbanks, Alaska (AP) 9-07

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has received a grant to help boost the number of Alaska Natives pursuing doctoral degrees.

The $40,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is intended to help the university create a program to attract more Native students to advanced degree programs, university officials said.

The university also plans to create a new doctorate in education with an emphasis on indigenous studies, said Bernice Joseph, the university's vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education.

She said coursework will focus on issues relevant to rural Alaska such as climate change, economic development and language preservation.

“They would be able to go back and work with the communities on community development projects,” Joseph said.

Since 1989, UAF has awarded 401 doctoral degrees, five of which have gone to Alaska Natives or American Indians.

Officials hope to have doctoral students graduate and then stay on as professors at UAF to encourage more Alaska Native students to pursue higher degrees, Joseph said.

About 19 percent of the student body is Alaska Native, compared to 3 percent of faculty.

“We have to have a higher percentage of Alaska Natives on our faculty,” said Judyth Wier, UAF's associate vice chancellor for development. “There is much work to be done to grow professors that are reflective of the student population. It's important for there to be role models that students can make a connection with.”

Officials at the university will be working through the fall on coming up with a final proposal for the new Ph.D. program and will be asking the Mellon foundation, based in New York, for further help implementing the new initiative.

“It's important that we have research that's being done from an indigenous person's perspective,” Joseph said. “It's important that we have publications and books written from the indigenous perspective. It really adds to the overall scholarly work within the university and the nation.”

UAF is the only campus within the statewide University of Alaska system that awards doctoral degrees.

Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,