Blake Fletcher and Erin Ohlson

Blake Fletcher and Erin Ohlson

Meet the two students speaking at Sunday’s UAS graduation

It’s time to graduate.

The University of Alaska Southeast’s 2018 Juneau graduating class will be hearing cheers from excited family members, peers and the public during the commencement ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Student Recreation Center.

UAS expects to award 410 associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees, 128 certificates and professional licensures, and 174 occupational endorsements across the campuses of Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.

Two of those students, Erin Ohlson and Blake Fletcher, were chosen by UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield to speak at the ceremony.

Erin Ohlson, master’s in Public Administration

Erin Ohlson, of Gustavus, thought she was done with school after graduating with her Associate’s of Arts in Sociology at the College of Southern Nevada and receiving her bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Alaska Southeast. She started volunteering and then working at The Rookery at Gustavus — a preschool and childcare program — after her oldest daughter started at the program.

However, as the program changed, so too did the regulations. At that point Ohlson needed to push forward with her education. That is when she decided to go back to school and take online courses at UAS. This weekend she is graduating with her master’s in Public Administration and will be speaking about her experiences.

“I can’t say how much of an honor it is to be asked to speak,” Ohlson said. “It really surprised me. It’s a huge opportunity.”

Ohlson said her experience earning her master’s has given her invaluable knowledge at her job. Ohlson said the courses she has taken, in particularly public financial management, have really helped build on her role at the company as the Chief Executive Officer.

“When the changes in the required formality were made, we did not have a strategic plan to fall back on,” Ohlson said. “This program helped me develop policy and procedures. It also helped with writing the company’s mission statement which had not been redone since 2007. It really helped me find areas that I did not even know to really look at.”

Ohlson said because of her experience in the program she said anyone pursuing work in the public service field should pursue an advance degree at UAS.

“In this program, you can decide to go very in-depth in one area or you can touch on several different aspects of public service,” she said. “In undergrad, there is not as many public service degrees.”

Ohlson also added how much the online courses changed her life.

“That fact that the program is online is big, especially if you are busy with a job,” Ohlson said. “I wouldn’t have a degree without the online program.”

Ohlson said the 10 years it has taken her to reach this particular goal has been worth it because it has allowed her to continue working in a field she enjoys. Ohlson also said speaking in front of her family, including her 92-year-old grandfather, is also a great experience.

“I am really excited to share my knowledge,” she said. “I was able to gain that knowledge behind the strength of my family and the community. Now I am able to give back.”

Blake Fletcher, Bachelor of Arts in English and Bachelor of Science in Mathematics

Blake Fletcher, of Hardwick, Vermont, learned early on that he wanted to make a difference.

After spending a year on the railroad in Skagway, Fletcher decided to become a teacher.

“Honestly, my plan was not to go to school,” Fletcher said. “My plan was to go to Skagway and work for the railroad like my grandfather did. I worked for one year at the railroad and decided I wanted to pursue an education.”

Now, Fletcher is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and will be speaking about his life and his time so far at UAS.

“It really it is a big honor,” Fletcher said. “It comes with some pressure, but I am very grateful to have this opportunity.”

Fletcher wants to continue his education and has applied for the master’sn Teaching program at UAS. If he gets in, he wants to return to his hometown in Vermont and be a mentor to students.

“I have noticed people have had awful experiences with their math teachers,” Fletcher said. “I had teachers in high school that kept me motivated and I hope I might be able to go back and pay it forward. I want to not only be a teacher, but a role model.”

Fletcher said his mother had two children in her teens and his father went to prison when he was a child. He said it was those experiences that have helped make him the person he is today.

“Trauma kind of hits everybody in some way,” Fletcher said. “If we don’t consider those things when we are communicating with each other, I don’t think there is a lot of room for progress.”

Fletcher said when he started school, he wasn’t sure which courses to study.

“My first year (at UAS) I was not a great student, but I was able to experience a few classes that motivated me to push myself in a certain direction,” he said. “Those classes were my English and math classes.”

Fletcher said studying both fields has allowed him to become a more well-rounded person.

“Math is really about knowing how to problem solve and thinking about what you are given and asking ‘what does that mean and where can I can go from here?’” In literature I was able to look back. I was able to read through pieces of literature that had covered a wide variety of historical events I had previously overlooked. In reading through those books, I was able to realize we need to be more understanding with each other.”



• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.



Erin Ohlson

Erin Ohlson

Blake Fletcher, one of two students lined up to speak at the University of Alaska Southeast graduation on Sunday, talks about attending school at UAS on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Blake Fletcher, one of two students lined up to speak at the University of Alaska Southeast graduation on Sunday, talks about attending school at UAS on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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