Kaci Hamilton, student body president at the University of Alaska Southeast, can see some similarities between her hometown and Juneau - except there are no bears or glaciers in Jamaica.
"Where I live is another huge cruise ship destination," she said. "I remember driving to school (in Jamaica) and being able to tell what day it was, based on how many were docked. I remember thinking, 'Oh, it must be Thursday because there's four,' or 'Obviously it's Friday because there's none.' "
Hamilton, 22, grew up in the tourist town of Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica, moved to Alaska in 2002, and has since established herself as one of the university system's student leaders. In only her second semester at UAS, Hamilton has made a big impression with students, faculty and administrators.
"My first impression is that it takes students a year or two to get their feet on the ground to get involved, let alone to get involved with leadership," said Paul Kraft, UAS dean of students and enrollment. "As a student at a new campus you have an opportunity to sit back or jump in, and she jumped in. I have a respect for people who do that."
At the beginning of the fall 2003 semester there were 607 full-time students and 1,256 part-time students registered.
Hamilton said student government works to improve the quality of student life on campus. The student government finances academic and social activities, organizes and executes community service projects and represents the university at local and statewide events.
Hamilton said most Jamaicans seeking an American college education enroll at campuses in Florida, Georgia, Texas or New York.
"They always go to the Lower 48. Nobody ever really ventures outside of that box. So I thought I would be one to be adventurous and do that," she said, narrowing down her choices to Hawaii and Alaska.
"I thought, 'OK, I can live on another island and be tropical again or I can go to Alaska and learn to snowboard and experience the four seasons and go to the last frontier of this amazing place that so many people run to.' "
Hamilton decided to attend Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez because it would not charge her out-of-state tuition. After a semester in Valdez, she transferred to UAS because it offers a degree more to her liking. An aspiring writer, Hamilton enrolled in the UAS English degree program because, she said, Anchorage is way too big and Fairbanks is way too cold.
"I'm also in the outdoor studies program, so I can be a tough girl and rock climb, walk across glaciers, build snow caves and all that good stuff," she said.
Hamilton spent this past summer working for Gastineau Guiding.
"I got to take people hiking and that's kind of a ridiculous thing to get paid for, but it was pretty fun," she said.
Hamilton has helped provide diversity to the student leadership at UAS, which Kraft said is highly beneficial to the university.
"I think it's really a bonus for us as an institution to have her as a student leader," said Kraft. "People don't have to look very far to see that we support diversity. Just look at our student leadership and there it is.
"She has a very winning personality. She likes people and people like her," he said. "Very quickly, people move from Kaci the student from Jamaica, to Kaci the very fun and interesting person."
Hamilton said she has been getting a lot of support from the administration and faculty.
"It's a very tough thing to jump into. People have been really supporting and encouraging and interested in what we're doing and what we have planned and what we want, and offering their help, their manpower and their say," she said. "People have been very willing to assist whenever I need help, and that's a really amazing resource."
She said her main obstacle thus far as president has been tackling student apathy.
"My goal is just to create more of a sense of unity within the student body and just to try and put in place as many things as possible, whether it's volunteer services, or projects, or activities, or clubs or organizations," she said. "I mean, any role that I can play in getting those things set up so students can be more involved, and more involved together as a body, is a goal."
Eric Morrison can be reached at