Kuskokwim Campus Student of the Year Awards

by Cindy Andrecheck

Danielle Josephine Martha Iiqtaq Epchook. Photo by Cindy Andrecheck

Chelsea Irene Palanaq Hoffman and Family. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hoffman

University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus is pleased to announce its Student of the Year Awards. The Full-time Student of the Year Award will be presented to Danielle Josephine Martha Iiqtaq Epchook from Kwethluk, AK. Danielle is completing her first year at KuC after graduating with her high school diploma from Kwethluk Ket’acik & Aapalluk Memorial School in May 2019. Danielle plans to return to KuC next fall to pursue her Associate of Arts Degree. Early in her academic career, Danielle is still undecided as far as a major is concerned. Right now she is considering a career in either mechanical engineering or medicine.

During high school Danielle participated in a number of college prep activities which allowed her to check out a variety of post-secondary school options. Those included Take Wing, which allows students to explore both college and vocational school choices; the Rural Alaska Honors Institute (RAHI), which “prepares rural and Alaska Native high school students for academic excellence and college success;” and the Anchorage Acceleration Academy, which is part of ANSEP, the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

After reviewing all her choices, Danielle chose KuC to begin her academic career. Her choice was swayed partly by a desire not to go too far from home and partly by a visit to Kwethluk by KuC staff who brought a currently enrolled KuC student with them. Talking with that student greatly influenced Danielle’s decision to attend KuC.

Her advice for entering college students?

“College is not as scary as it might seem … find ways to get scholarships, and do it beforehand to avoid paying more later. College is fun in an educational way.”

Danielle is a first-generation college student whose entire family, especially her mom, are very supportive and encouraging. She says KuC faculty and staff are understanding and supportive as well, pushing students just hard enough while gently reminding them of consequences.

“Lots of great people at KuC,” she says.

KuC’s Part-time Student of the Year Award will be given to Chelsea Irene Palanaq Hoffman, Bethel born and raised. Chelsea earned her high school diploma from Bethel Regional High School (BRHS) in 2005. While in high school Chelsea was motivated to keep her grades up so she could wrestle and play basketball. She earned many athletic honors while attending BRHS including going to State for wrestling, being included in the NCAA’s wrestling magazine, and being selected for Team Alaska, whose purpose is to “select and organize youth athletes to compete in the Arctic Winter Games, a high-profile circumpolar sport competition for Northern and Arctic athletes”; Chelsea wrestled in the Arctic Winter Games in Canada. Sports was not her only strength; she was also a member of the National Honor Society.

After high school graduation, Chelsea spent two years at UAA in Anchorage. Her academic pursuits were set aside for a while as she raised her daughter. Even as she prioritized family over her own education, she kept her dream alive, resolving to go back to school and finish what she had started. Her dad instilled a strong work ethic in her, so she knew what hard work was and did not shy away from it. She worked hard and saved money for the day when she could resume her educational dreams.

Chelsea moved back to Bethel and finally restarted her higher education at KuC in the fall semester 2019, with her goal of earning a degree in social work. Why did she choose KuC?

“Bethel is my home, where my loved ones are and where my heart is at. There are amazing people at KuC. They want you to succeed and care about your success. A big part of it for me is the community feeling – it feels like a warm hug.”

As a first-generation college student, Chelsea had to look beyond her immediate family for help figuring out college. When she was ready, KuC staff and faculty were there to help her figure out the right path.

Chelsea says, “When things get out of hand and life throws you curve balls, keep going. NEVER QUIT! I’m not 20-something anymore, and I’m still trying to achieve my goals…If I can do it, anybody can do it.” Chelsea is thankful for the amazing people in her life who never gave up on her. She said receiving this award is a very emotional and humbling moment.

If life was normal, these 2 deserving students would be receiving their awards at a brunch hosted by KuC in their honor. Plans now, however, are to celebrate with them in the fall. Congratulations Danielle and Chelsea from all of us at Kuskokwim Campus. Stay safe.