Getting a Masters Degree in the Alaska Bush

It's been a little quiet in The Alaska Teacher Land lately.

(Note to readers: the word quiet only applies to the blog.  There's been plenty of noise in real life TAT Land due to a certain four year-old and six year-old that are part of the TAT family.  Thank you.)

The almost silence is the result of several factors, but the main one is that I finally finished something I started long ago: getting a masters degree in the Alaska Bush.

getting a graduate degree in the Alaska Bush

I knew I wanted a masters degree while I was an undergrad, but life happened, and before I knew it, I was married and teaching in Shishmaref (hey Steve!  Thanks for ruining a perfectly good academic plan!)

(Note to readers: anybody who knows me in real life knows that marrying Steve was the best thing I ever did.  The word "ruining," although it technically applies, is a joke.  Thank you.)

I couldn't give up the dream of a masters degree, but I didn't want to leave Shishmaref.  So, I started researching graduate degrees that I could complete while in the Alaska Bush.

Turns out there are loads of online-only options of varying degrees of quality and cost.  I compared multiple programs and tried a few.

What did not work for me:

  • completely asynchronous coursework
  • no interaction with classmates and professors outside of discussion board posts
  • professors with no mastery of the technology used in the class (yes, it is possible to be engaged no matter what, but it is also possible to create a complete snooze-fest via VTC, audio conference, vidyo, etc. if you don't know what you're doing)
  • professors who couldn't remember what I was researching, even after sending detailed e-mails asking for feedback
  • content that was only tangentially useful to my every day life (History of Piracy, anyone? The "Yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum kind, not the digital theft kind.  The digital theft kind might have actually been more useful...)
  • academic advisors randomly assigned to me because they specialized in something Native American related.  Even though it was East Coast Native Americans.  And had nothing to do with education.

I earned a bunch of credits.  I learned some moderately useful stuff.  I spent a lot of money on tuition.  But, I couldn't finish.  I wanted my final thesis/project to be something meaningful and personal and useful, but my advisors and professors didn't have the relevant expertise to support me.

A move to Brevig Mission and two kids later, I had basically given up.  Then an opportunity fell into my lap.  The story of how I got connected to the University of Alaska Fairbanks is for another post, but the short version is that I applied to to a UAF graduate program in Cross-Cultural Education.  Some of my research credits from my previous online graduate experiences transferred, and I was able to complete my degree.

This time I loved it.  I'm proud of my final masters project.  I felt supported and guided the whole way.  I adore my professors and graduate committee members.  I'm a better person and a better teacher now.  And that's kind of the whole point of education in the first place.

Why UAF was different:

  • my distance classes met at least once a week online via Blackboard Collaborate and a simultaneous conference call.  I got to hear the voices of my colleagues and professors, see their faces, and actually connect with them!
  • professors who knew how to maximize Collaborate, conference calls, Google Forms, etc. to keep three hour classes interactive and engaging.
  • classes were SO RELEVANT to what I was/could be doing in my classroom.  I could immediately take things from class and use them to improve my teaching
  • professors extremely familiar with the Alaska context
  • academic advisors who knew me as a person, were competent in the areas I researched, and offered fantastic resources and guidance

I needed connection.  I needed relevance.  I found that at UAF.  I would encourage anyone looking for graduate (or undergraduate) degrees or courses to check out UAF's distance education department.

(Note to readers: The School of Education at UAF is in the middle of some, uh, shall we say, restructuring.  The distance options in the School of Ed are a little light right now, but stay tuned, things will get sorted soon.  We hope.)

There are also distance options across the University of Alaska system.  I can't vouch for any of them personally, and I am partial to UAF, but Steve (aka Mr. TAT) completed the MEd in Mathematics Education at the University of Alaska Southeast and had a positive experience.

Comment away questions about my program, Steve's program, or any other specific program you're wondering about.  I can always activate the small-world-that-is-Alaska connections to find someone with personal experience and insights to share.


  1. Maura Wynne says:

    Hi Angie
    So thrilled for you
    It’s a different world when you finish your masters
    You may even be able to have a lazy day on the weekend!

  2. Congratulations! I stumbled onto your blog, via Twitter. I am currently working on my Masters of Education at UAF, teaching 5th grade in Wrangell and raising two children. Not a week goes by that I don’t question why I am pursuing my masters now when I am already busy, but I do love the challenge and have been quite happy with UAF. Glad that you were able to graduate, (it is no small feat) feels like I will never get there. What was your final master’s project?

    • Hi Laura! My final project was designing a professional development module and two cultural arts units as part of a larger initiative with my cohort and school district. It’s being unrolled now! Watch the blog (and Twitter!) for more details soon!

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