The path to the University of Alaska Southeast was the Internet for one Miami woman, plane rides from Hoonah for another student, an Army helicopter for a third student, and for a fourth, a Navy ship that barely budged.
Those distinctive students and about 230 others are due to receive diplomas at the Juneau school's 29th annual commencement, set to start at 2 p.m. today at Centennial Hall.
Angelica Lopez-Campos, 31, moved to Juneau from Miami three years ago to join her boyfriend, whom she met over an Internet chat line. But the Argentina native was looking to renew her college career, too.
Lopez-Campos will graduate at least cum laude with a bachelor of business administration degree with an emphasis in accounting. Her degree could jump to magna cum laude, depending on how some courses at a California college are counted, she said.
Lopez-Campos grew up in Buenos Aires, a city of 3 million, and lived in Los Angeles before Miami, so Juneau seemed small and maybe a bit cloudy. But it came to seem right.
She has kept busy with a full load of courses, organizing activities for the UAS Spanish Club, part-time work as a waitress, teaching assistant and accounting tutor, and as a volunteer DJ for the KTOO radio program ``Ritmo Latino'' (Latin Rhythm).
``In a big city, you don't see the same faces over and over again. I get to have a lot more friends here, and people know me,'' she said.
After earning an associate's degree in California, Lopez-Campos was afraid to go on to upper-division classes at a small university because, she figured, the professors would know the students well and expect a lot.
Then, at UAS, she realized ``what a difference it makes that your professor really cares. I never met one that was not willing to spend some time with you and explain a school issue or just talk to you.''
Lisa Andersson Keown, 38, chose UAS because it was a chance to get back to her Tlingit roots and keep her family together in Hoonah, even if it meant commuting by air and then the airwaves.
``A lot of people aren't aware of the possibilities,'' she said. ``Anymore, there's no excuse not to get your education.''
Keown was born in Juneau of Tlingit and Swedish parents, and her family moved to Sweden when she was a girl. She met her fisherman husband on a visit to Alaska, and they stayed in Sweden for eight years before returning to Juneau in 1995 with two young daughters.
Keown studied at UAS for two years while the family lived in Juneau. Then they moved to Hoonah to be nearer her husband's fishing and her mother's family. Keown spent a school year living several days a week in the UAS student housing and commuting by plane to Hoonah.
``I kind of felt that really college-student lifestyle,'' Keown said of the dorms. But ``it takes you for a spin because when you get off the plane you're a mom again.''
Keown stretched out her college career to five years so she could spend more time with her daughters. She will get a bachelor of business administration degree with an emphasis in management today.
``That's part of being a mother and going back to school. You don't want them -- especially your kids -- to sacrifice anything.''
Keown finished her last two years living full-time in Hoonah. With her computer, she tuned into live sound broadcasts of some courses from the Juneau campus. Other courses were by correspondence with the University of Alaska Fairbanks or in telephone conferences through UAS in Sitka.
``It's kind of hard because it's much more fun to be in a classroom setting,'' Keown said of her distance learning. ``But you kind of have to work harder at it when you're online.''
For Cathy Meier, 53, repairing helicopters in the Army 20 years ago helped spur her interest in a UAS certificate in marine diesel power technology.
Meier still remembers the time she diagnosed and fixed a weather surveillance helicopter in a day.
``I was the hero that day and that was one of the happiest days of my life,'' she said.
But Meier hurt her back lifting a tool box in the Army and is partially disabled. It's painful and fatiguing for her to be on her feet all day and do heavy work. She worked for years in Alaska and Missouri as a counselor and social worker before semi-retiring eight years ago.
But a few years ago Meier decided she wanted a skilled trade ``because that's where the money is and that's where the jobs are.''
Funded by the Job Training Partnership Act and a veterans' vocational rehabilitation program, Meier completed her certificate in two years, along with a one-semester internship at Anchor Electric, where she's now undertaking 18 more months of training as an electric motor repairer.
With her back condition, Meier can't work on boats or do heavy lifting. A starter weighs 100 pounds; she weighs 112 pounds. She looked for a shop that has plenty of tools and equipment to accommodate her disability.
``What I can do is stay in the shop, and I'm learning to rebuild motors, alternators, starters. And I would really like to get smart enough to overhaul and rebuild generators,'' she said.
It's taken Marla J. Booth, 28, eight years on the G.I. Bill to earn her associate of arts degree, with a stopover in Greece, and it's just a stage toward a bachelor's degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in communications.
Booth is years older than her roommates at student housing, but she's not so sure she should be called a nontraditional student.
``I think that there's more people not right out of high school that are in college,'' Booth said.
She knows fellow graduates of Ketchikan High who went right into college and dropped out because they weren't ready to buckle down. She said she thought it a good idea to delay going to college.
``I'm not wasting my time. I'm learning what I want to learn,'' she said.
But it's taken a while to figure that out. Booth went into the Navy out of high school to see the world and make some money for college, but she found herself on a submarine tender in Virginia nicknamed the U.S.S. Never Sail. The subs came to her in port.
After three years in the Navy, Booth returned to Ketchikan and studied full-time at UAS there for a semester. Then she took courses a bit at a time as she worked office and retail jobs for several years. She wanted to save enough money to attend college full-time, with the help of the G.I. Bill.
Booth satisfied some of her wanderlust with nearly a year in Europe, mostly attending classes in Greece through a study-abroad program. She studied archaeology, language, literature and socio-linguistics.
``They were great classes. I loved it over there,'' Booth said, but it wasn't until she remembered a speech class in her first year back in Ketchikan that she knew what she wanted to do.
Booth hopes an emphasis in communications will lead to a job in public relations -- maybe on a cruise ship so she can travel.
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