Callie Conerton stands in front of Mount Juneau. Courtesey of Callie Conerton.

Callie Conerton stands in front of Mount Juneau. Courtesey of Callie Conerton.

Graduating college: UAS students tell their stories

Graduating from college is a momentous occasion filled with silly hats and cards of congratulations, but as a graduating student, I can say that there is much more to this life event than that. says that the word “graduation” comes from the Latin word “gradus” meaning grade or simply, a step. The first recorded use of this word is found in reference to “Gradus ad Parnassum” or “a step to Parnassus.” Parnassus is an 8,061 foot mountain in Greece.

[Meet JoMarie Alba, UAS student graduation speaker]

This semester has by far been the most challenging on my own adventure with the University of Alaska Southeast. After a five-year balancing act of priorities and unforeseen obstacles I can’t say I’m not happy it’s over. An overwhelming feeling of accomplishment will accompany each student that walks down the aisle towards their certificate. It’s not a certificate for merely participating, but one that symbolizes each student’s story and the steps they had to take in order to succeed. In this article, I’ll tell a few of those stories.

Callie Conerton

Upcoming UAS graduate Callie Conerton is a Juneau girl through and through.

When asked in an email why she chose UAS, Conerton replied by writing, “When it comes down to it, I love Juneau. I love the community and the environment.”

Conerton, now 24, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education after six years of hard work and studying to “Gilmore Girls playing in the background,” she wrote.

By working at Shoefly and nannying for three children throughout her career as a university student, Conerton has been able to pay for her own education.

“It has been great to have bosses that support my dreams,” she wrote.

Her junior year spent in Germany made her realize just how much she loves Alaska and Juneau. During her time at UAS she dedicated five years to the student government, finishing with two years as president. She also served on the Coalition of Student Leaders. Her involvement in the student government has allowed for some memorable experiences; once she participated in a snowball fight with Chancellor Rick Caulfield while at a Board of Regents Meeting at UAA.

She said she’s thankful to both Jeffrey Loftus and Alberta Jones, who run the elementary education program at UAS, for the instruction and support they’ve given her over the years. Finishing her Montessori training at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., receiving her master’s degree, and getting what she calls an “adult job” are next on Conerton’s list of to-dos.

Trever Held

Trever Held will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Social Sciences with concentrations in sociology, history, and anthropology. Although Held’s education at UAS began six years ago, he’s only been a social science student for the last few.

“I made it to graduation slowly but surely. It took me a long time to get on track, but eventually I was able to find a program at UAS that I could be passionate about,” he wrote in an email.

He’s taken full advantage of the exchange programs offered at UAS that allow students to travel to other schools and still pay UAS’ tuition. Two and a half of Held’s six years were spent on exchange. The first was a year spent at Utah State University in 2011-2012. In 2013-2014, Held left for a year to study in the Netherlands at the University of Amsterdam.

He stayed true to his love for traveling and in 2015, he spent one semester at the University of Minnesota.

“Studying in a different country is a completely (life-changing) experience that more people need to consider!” Held wrote in an email.

He said his favorite university memories were of his time spent in Amsterdam.

“I have too many amazing memories from my time spent there (than) I could possibly share,” he said.

Now that graduation is right around the corner, Held feels comfortable confessing that one of his greatest study habits has been studying under the pressure of a time crunch and “writing papers the same day they’re due and receiving A’s on them.” Here at UAS Held has enjoyed Associate Professor of History David Noon and his extensive knowledge of U.S. history, as well as Associate Professor of Anthropology Daniel Monteith’s courses, which Held said were engaging and encouraged him to think critically.

Held is in no hurry to enter into a professional career straight out of college and plans to continue to work as a server in Juneau during the summer tour season. Then, he said, he’ll become a “cliché twenty-something and do some traveling.” Eventually, he hopes to land a long-term job somewhere out of the country.

Erika Apathy

Erika Apathy recommends that everyone wear their pajamas while studying – and, of course, plan ahead. Apathy left her hometown of Sitka to attend Southern Oregon University in 2012 and then Wichita State University for the spring of 2013.

She returned to Sitka the winter of 2013 to be near family for when her son, Noah, was born. Since then, Apathy has been taking distance courses through UAS to complete her degree while subbing at a local elementary school.

The ability to stay at home near her family’s support after having her son during her sophomore year was a big part of why she chose UAS.

Apathy will be graduating with a Bachelors of Arts with a concentration in elementary education. She remembers her first practicum fondly.

“Before the class with a practicum I had just taken classes and read books about how to be a teacher. This class was the first time I had the opportunity to actually be in a classroom and got to see what teaching really looked like in a real school,” Apathy wrote in an email. Even UAS’ online students get to experience a graduation ceremony – Apathy plans to.

After graduation, she’ll begin work on her Masters in Educational Technology, continued through distance courses offered by UAS.

Nathan Block

The first time Nathan Block went to college, in Minnesota, he realized he wasn’t yet ready.

Now, after four years at UAS, he’s about to receive a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in literature, and minors in philosophy and Alaska Native studies.

After completing his last tour in Iraq, Nathan Block decided to move from Elk River, Minnesota to what a high school friend called “beautiful Juneau, Alaska.” It’s been eight years since he jumped on a plane that landed him in this town and he hasn’t left since.

Thirty-three-year-old Block attributes his degree to his good friends Mr. Coffee and Buddhists “om” chants he found on YouTube.

He’s been a part of The Flying University, a UAS program led by Associate Professor of English Sol Neely, which brings literature and philosophy into the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Block has also worked as a library assistant and peer advisor while completing his degree.

Block has stayed true to the four-year degree program and was able to find time to balance work and play along the way. He wrote in an email that, “Humans (versus) Zombies is always a fun time. Winning the Woosh (Woosh Kinaadeiyi) Poetry Slam my first year, I will never stop writing poetry. A long time ago I (chose) to live the “write” way. All the Evenings at Egan Lectures, I like how wide-ranging they are. I like educational events. It is fun to me to go out to learn and not to just party (another key to my success). Ernestine Hayes’ presentation on her book ‘Tao of Raven’ was one of my favorite events this year.” Next on Block’s list of goals, “Try to lose my freshman 15 (pounds), and my senior 20 (pounds).”

He hopes to stay at UAS for two more years, studying for a Master’s degree in public administration (and maybe a PhD after that.)

Daniel Piscoya

Daniel Piscoya’s love of learning might make him the ideal university student.

That love can be attributed, he said, to his mother’s commitment to his education. She homeschooled him and his siblings from third grade until high school.

Now, Piscoya is 22 and graduating with a Bachelors of Arts. He majored in English and minored in philosophy.

“I am a traditional student — this is the culmination of my fourth year at UAS,” Piscoya wrote in an email. His father’s employment as a state trooper took him all over Alaska but “Ketchikan and Fairbanks mostly.” After receiving the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the UA Scholars Award Piscoya knew that going to school in state was his best option. It was UAS’ Scholars Leadership Award and its free housing for a year that eventually won him over.

Piscoya has been involved with the UAS newspaper, the Whalesong.

He began, he said, as the staff writer and advertising manager. After a year, however, he became the managing editor, a position he held for two years.

Throughout those years Piscoya’s work with the Whalesong has been complimented by many, including Chancellor Caulfield.

Although physically Piscoya has only attended classes at UAS, he’s taken a few distance courses through other UA locations, including what became the class he most enjoyed, a beginning Latin course from UAF.

“Big shout-out to Nina Chordas, my thesis advisor! She’s been a great mentor — patient and kind, helpful and inspirational,” he wrote.

Piscoya said his key to success relies on music, simplifying and finding what works for him as a student.

“I listen to film scores while working and studying. I find that studying is more effective when both the creative and analytical halves of the mind are active at once.”

Piscoya recognizes that he “may end up getting a job that has absolutely nothing to do with literature. That’s fine with me.”

“I went into college knowing that I wouldn’t be able to use my degree to get a specific job – that wasn’t why I came here. I came here to study something that I love.”

Public speaking and inspiring others have been some of his favorite university memories. Another is residence life’s student camping trips. The first he went on was three years ago, during the end of his first year at UAS.

“The sun was making the trees golden, a breeze was waving the grass, and I was done with my essays!” he wrote.



Intern Mackenzie Fisher can be reached at



Daniel Piscoya on the University of Alaska Southeast Campus. Photo courtesy of Daniel Piscoya.

Daniel Piscoya on the University of Alaska Southeast Campus. Photo courtesy of Daniel Piscoya.

Erika Apathy in front of nature. Photo courtesy of Erika Apathy.

Erika Apathy in front of nature. Photo courtesy of Erika Apathy.

Left: Nathan Block making friends on the UAS campus.Photo courtesy of Nathan Block.  Right: Callie Conerton stands in front of Mount Juneau. Photo courtesy of Callie Conerton .

Left: Nathan Block making friends on the UAS campus.Photo courtesy of Nathan Block. Right: Callie Conerton stands in front of Mount Juneau. Photo courtesy of Callie Conerton .

Trever Held enjoying Barcelona. Photo Courtesy of Trever Held.

Trever Held enjoying Barcelona. Photo Courtesy of Trever Held.

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