Starr Jensen is UA Strong!
Jensen’s path as a UAS student reflects how a variety of puzzle pieces come together and contribute to educational success.
Date of Press Release: August 28, 2019
Inside a large mauve building, customers line up for their morning coffee. There’s chatter and warm greetings — everyone seems to know everyone. This is Fat Grandma’s Bistro and Gifts, a hub of local activity in the coastal community of Yakutat, where, in addition to coffee, souvenirs for tourists, and a home-cooked daily special, you also find a book collection that acts as the town’s lending library. A large plastic frog ribbits as Starr Jensen enters the shop to talk about her experiences as an Education student at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) and her excitement over becoming a proud UAS parent this fall.
“We are big supporters of UAS in my family,” Jensen says. “I really enjoyed getting my degree. It wasn’t always easy, but UAS made it convenient with all the online courses. To be able to remain part of your community, work, and care for your family while going to school was great.”
Jensen’s path as a UAS student reflects how a variety of puzzle pieces come together and contribute to educational success. Individual aspirations, family and community support, and a flexible yet academically rigorous education program all coalesced in Jensen’s experience.
Jensen grew up in Yakutat and now splits her time between Sitka and her hometown. She completed her Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education at UAS in 2014. As a teacher at Head Start, an early education program that prepares children ages 3 to 5 for elementary school, Jensen’s work allows her to give back to the community that is clearly a central part of her life. As she sits at Fat Grandma’s, she is continuously greeted by her neighbors and friends as they pop in and out of the shop. Jensen enjoys the sociability and friendliness of her hometown and laughs that her daughter Shaye is not “a small town girl” because she prefers the bigger town feel of the nearby community of Sitka.
Shaye, who graduated from Sitka High School this past May, is attending UAS Sitka this fall. In fact, Shaye unconsciously led her mother toward her current job. Years ago, Jensen enrolled a then three-year-old Shaye in the Head Start program. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), which oversees Head Start, hired Jensen as an aide and gave her the opportunity to pursue a degree in higher education as she worked.
“At the time, Head Start required that you have an Associate Degree,” Jensen explains. “And then there was this wonderful opportunity through PITAAS to obtain your degree in Early Education at UAS.” The PITAAS Program (Preparing Indigenous Teachers & Administrators for Alaska Schools) continues to offer scholarships for Bachelors in Elementary and Special
Education as well as Masters in Teaching and Education degrees.
Jensen began her college career earlier at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she participated in the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI), a six-week summer program for Alaska Native high school students. After an additional year at UAF, Jensen returned home and began working as a tutor for Yakutat School.
“I always wanted to work with children, especially young children who are so curious about the world around them,” she recalls. “But I wasn’t sure what shape that would take.”
While grateful for the funding that helped her return to college, Jensen now had family responsibilities. She knew the experience would be different but says: “As a working mother, the online system was so supportive. I could call into class in the evenings. Sometimes we’d [Jensen and her family] be all together listening. I could complete the lab work for education at my own work, observing the interaction of students in my own class at Head Start.”
UAS faculty were flexible and understanding. For example, Jensen remembered that Roby Littlefield, her UAS Tlingit language instructor, “gave me the option to come physically to class or log in because it was dinner time for my family.”
But being a non-traditional student was not without significant challenges. Broadband connectivity could be unreliable or slow in Yakutat, making distance courses with set meeting times tricky, so Jensen appreciated it when professors recorded lectures to view anytime. She was then able to listen after her children went to bed or in the morning before work.
One time, Jensen needed to bring her young son to a class. “I had to explain to my son we were going to my school — to mommy’s school. Then during the class, he’s walking around and exploring the room. He made a lot of noise! But my teacher [in this instance, also Roby Littlefield] wasn’t thrown at all — she did not make it into a big issue and I was able to still get the lesson.”
Jensen stayed motivated and dedicated to completing her degree. “You need to stay on top of it,” she says. “It takes a lot of personal commitment. That’s what is worrisome to me as a mom. I don’t want her [Shaye] to procrastinate. I want her to have good time management which is hard for adults, so how can we expect teenagers to properly budget their time?”
One of the ways Jensen managed was with the support of her family and friends. It was their encouragement and help that were another key to her success. For her Communications class, her assignment required that she record herself speaking in front of an audience of ten people. Jensen says as she smiles, “I am so thankful for my kids, co-workers, family and friends who all would spend their time helping me complete my studies. They would be my audience and participate in the assignments when I needed them.”
Jensen’s husband was also highly supportive. “I was so fortunate that he always tried to be as helpful as he could. We’d be at home and he’d say ‘Go listen — go log into class’ and he would take care of things around the house.”
Jensen credits UAS and her community with shaping her into a lifelong learner. “Even though I’m not currently looking to complete another degree,” she says, “I take classes when I can.” Most recently, Jensen took two Tlingit classes last spring and fall, funded by scholarships from Yakutat Tlingit Tribe.
Jensen muses: “I am hopeful that my daughter becomes a lifelong learner as well — to see that knowledge and learning goes beyond obtaining the degree.” She looks forward to Shaye entering UAS as a freshman, relishing the opportunity to become one of the encouraging and dedicated supporters she knows are so central to college success.
“The PITAAS Program has a great impact on education in Alaskan communities because our students give back in so many meaningful ways. We celebrate Starr’s determination and success and are pleased the PITAAS Program supported her in her education goals.”
Learn more about degree programs at UAS by visiting our admissions website or by speaking to an advisor at 907-796-6100.