Life in Alaska — Snowshoes, the Iditarod, Moose babies
Life in Alaska — Snowshoes, the Iditarod, Moose Babies
Stacey Graham finds counseling at Alma College to be a great next step after working in Alaska.
The assistant director of the Center for Student development lived for two school years in Galena, Alaska, working as the residential counselor at the Galena Interior Learning Academy boarding high school.
"I was looking for something adventurous after graduate school," Graham says. "This was perfect because there was adventure and payment and experience all in one."
She interviewed for the position at a job fair in Oshkosh, Wisc. When she took the job she gained an experience that will stay with her for the rest of her life.
The public boarding school held around 80 students from all over Alaska.
The sense of community is paramount in Galena. She recalls feeling out of the loop for the first year because many people assumed she would be leaving soon, so they didn't get to know her well. But Graham says all the students immediately accepted her when she returned for a second school year.
"The students were a joy to work with," Graham says.
Graham appreciates Alma College students for their general willingness to communicate as she focuses mainly on counseling and working with students with disabilities.
Alaska added many unique experiences to Graham's repertoire. She crossed the Yukon River on snowshoes in February despite being scared of water.
When she was crossing the Yukon, her foot sunk a little, and she was nervous until she looked over to see the semis moving earth across the ice road on the river. Graham misses the snow in Alaska now.
She also volunteered when the Iditarod sled-dog race went through Galena.
When the Iditarod passed through, Graham met Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod champion, who died at 51 of leukemia last August. Graham met her entire family and got to hear stories of her dedication to her dogs and family.
"The dogs are taken better care of than the musher," Graham says.
One of the biggest challenges for Graham in Alaska was integrating into the community.
"In the lower 48 states, it was so important to be self-sufficient," she says. "[The people of Galena] made decisions from a community aspect, because that's a particular strong value. I think it's one of the gifts Alaska has given me, that my decisions impact everyone."
Graham's favorite moment in Alaska occurred during the spring when the town waited for the river break. This is a big event since it's frozen solid for most of the year.
The man next door set up a fire outside right around the time the river breaks. He made coffee, and people stopped by to sit, talk and wait for the break in the river. He'd make food for people to eat, and other community members would stop by and wait for the break in the river.
When she was thinking about renewing her contract in Alaska for a third year, she thought about what environment she wanted to work in.
She did an internship at Alma College before going to Alaska, and it was such a welcoming environment to learn and grow in she considered returning. The day after she decided to look into Alma College, Trish Chase called and said there was an opening at the college and would she like to apply.
When Graham interviewed for the job in Alma over the phone, she saw a moose with her two babies outside the window, and she watched their interactions for the duration of the interview.
"Central [Michigan University] did a great job of shaping me," Graham says. "I'd like to do more with play therapy, being able to work with children, working with individuals who've experienced trauma."
Graham needs two years of supervised experience.
"I thought I'd get that in Alaska, but it was spotty so I want to get this here so I can obtain licensure," Graham says."I foresee Alma College being part of my career for a while longer."
Her original goal in life was to be a dance teacher. She loves ballet, and she got her first toe shoes when she still wore a size one.
Graham hopes to research more in dealing with play therapy for children. She appreciates having access to so many books in the library since before she had so few in Alaska.
— Sarah Chapman
Posted: Thu, December 14th, 2006 at 8:59AM