Originally published in The Northern Light
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sophie Leshan spent her childhood in the heart of a college town. University of Michigan and the town of Ann Arbor is described by Leshan as the quintessential college town. Despite the stark contrast with UAA being a small commuter school, Leshan found her calling and blossomed.
“Where I grew up was right on the edge of [The University of Michigan] campus, so where I grew up was what you think of when you think of a traditional college experience, so that is what I grew up literally next door to,” Leshan said. “I came and toured the UAA campus as a junior in high school. I graduated high school a year early so I could move up here with my parents. I was just like, ‘Oh this is not what I expected’, with having that perception of what the University of Michigan was. But UAA exceeded my expectations.”
One of the biggest advantages of UAA is the community the campus and city harbor for students to learn and grow.
“One of the real strengths was getting to meet community members from all walks of life. Particularly within my degree program. it was powerful for me to be in a classroom with people who were students and parents of students who were coming back to education as a second career and hearing their perception of what’s going on. It made my experience all the more strong,” Leshan said.
Leshan will be graduating this semester with a degree in early childhood education. After a semester of student teaching and three and a half years of studying at UAA, Leshan is graduating early and excited to get into classrooms and share her passion of learning.
“I’m graduating in three and a half years, which is kind of crazy because I did not go in with the intention of graduating high school and college early, but I just feel like I’m a life long learner and I love going to school. Now I get to bring my passion of learning and facilitate it in a classroom setting,” Leshan said.
After moving here four years ago with her family, Leshan has intentions to stay in the last frontier and either teach Alaska’s youth or work on education policy at the state level.
“I would love to work in Alaska, I love it here,” Leshan said. “I didn’t anticipate staying here for too long, but I fell in love. It’s so outdoorsy and there’s so many opportunities to get outdoors. There’s a really strong community here too. That’s definitely something I value. I found that immediately here.”
For students entering UAA for the first time, Leshan recommends getting involved with on-campus activities and clubs. When Leshan first got to UAA, she joined the Emerging Leaders program, a three-semester leadership workshop where you refine your leadership skills. This program helped inspire Leshan to join student government, where she worked for two years as the chair of activities committee and then the chief financial officer. In her three and a half years at UAA, Leshan also served on concert board for two years.
“I started my first semester with really no sense of direction with what I wanted to do…. I definitely jumped right in and got involved right away,” Leshan said. “There’s so many clubs on campus, and chances are there’s people on campus who have the same interests as you. There’s so many great opportunities to have a comprehensive student experience and to really be fulfilled in your education here.”
Leshan credits the people of UAA as the highlight of her college experience.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people at the university whether it’s students, faculty, staff. UAA has such a strong relationship with the Anchorage community. Through the university, I met a lot of other educators. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity and I was able to make so many valuable connections,” Leshan said.
Leshan will be delivering the Fall commencement speech on Sunday.
“I really value that we are all coming into graduation with the commonality of being UAA students. We are all studying different things, but we are all so united being UAA students. Despite being so different in so many ways, we can come together, and I hope we can find opportunities to continue learning and applying our skills even when we’re no longer a student,” Leshan said.
Leshan will be looking for teaching jobs in the area after graduating, where she hopes to share her passion of learning with others.