Wanda Wahl selected as permanent director of UAF Bristol Bay Campus after years-long search
The University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus is tucked between the library and the high school in downtown Dillingham. It opened in 1981 and in the following years started outreach centers in Togiak, New Stuyahok, and King Salmon. In 2015, the campus began overseeing education for the Aleutian-Pribilof region, which originally had its headquarters in Fairbanks.
Director Wanda Wahl said her connection to Bristol Bay and the Aleutians informs her leadership.
“I was born here, raised here, still here,” she said of Bristol Bay. “I think I understand a lot of the needs of this community. My son went to high school in Unalaska, so I've been to that part of our service area.”
For Wahl, this knowledge is valuable to her as campus director
“I think a big part of [the job] is knowing your service area and wanting to work with the people who are here,” she said.
Wahl has worked at the campus for a decade. Since 2021, she’s served as both the interim director and administrative manager. Now, she will take on the directorship permanently.
Hiring a campus director is a multi-step process. Usually, the College of Rural Development in Fairbanks leads the recruitment and reaches out to potential applicants. A committee with local faculty and other community members evaluates the applicants and sends their recommendation to the college’s dean. The dean then meets with the applicant and ultimately makes the hiring decision.
The university undertook three exhaustive searches while Wahl was working as interim director. Earlier this year, Dean Brian Uher petitioned to hire her without the additional committee screening. At first, Wahl said, she was reluctant to take on the role for the long-term. But eventually she agreed, after a little nudge from her colleagues.
“When you're surrounded by wonderful people, why not?” she said.
The university system faced a series of financial cuts in the past decade, as oil prices fell, and government spending remained a primary concern. The university’s system statewide general fund shrank by 30% between 2014 and 2020. Wahl said the campus had fewer staff members and heavier workloads, which she called demoralizing. Abrupt leadership changes and a drop in enrollment rounded out the decade.
Read more about the Bristol Bay Campus’s ten-year strategic plan
But in recent years, the campus has seen more financial stability. In 2022, it was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, providing $800,000 annually for the next several years. Wahl said that with this funding, they plan to provide resources to help students stay in school.
“We'll be on a mission to listen to see what kind of obstacles students are facing,” Wahl said. “And we will be hiring positions…coach, tutor or mentor positions to work with students.”
Wahl views the campus as an entry point to the university system, one that is relevant to the region. She aims to make the university more accessible, especially to first generation college students.
“I was the first one in my immediate family to go to college,” she said. “I like to think that by us partnering with school districts, and with people in their home communities, that they would know that college is an option for them, even if no one in your family has ever gone before.”
For Wahl, that work includes meeting people where they are to help achieve their goals.
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