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Davidson brings education experience, leadership into role as APU’s president

Apr 1, 2020

Then-newly-sworn-in Lt. Gov. Nurr’araaluk Valerie Davidson (Yup’ik) delivers her speech October 18, 2018, to the Alaska Federation of Natives delegation in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

Former Lieutenant Governor Valerie Davidson has stepped into another leadership role, becoming the first female president of Alaska Pacific University.

As Alaska Pacific University’s president-select, Nurr’araaluk Valerie Davidson (Yup’ik) continues to stay quite busy before she officially takes office. The former lieutenant governor works with out-going university president Bob Onders to transition into the role. And the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created some challenges.

“This is my first week on the job and I am actually tele-commuting from home.”

Davidson spoke by phone on March 26, a couple of days after Alaska Pacific University made the announcement.

As an early defense to mitigate the spread of illness -- in mid-March -- the university temporarily shut down in-person classes, and has moved many of them to online courses.

“It is also a really eye-opening experience for us as staff to experience the online experience simultaneous with our students, because it gives us a clearer idea of the challenges that they are experiencing,” Davidson said. “Which allows us to be more agile in our decision-making when a student raises an issue, that they’re having a challenge.”

The university president-select says distance learning -- and a devoted faculty and staff -- are helping students receive their education online – for the time being.

She shares her optimism for the university and the state to answer the challenges ahead when facing COVID-19.

“I know that we may be an unusual time,” she said. “We're going to get through this. And while we may be in uncertain times, we are not uncertain people and we can do this.”

Davidson has a long history of working in health care services. She worked in health care for 20 years. In 2014, then-Governor Bill Walker chose her to lead Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services.

“A lot of folks were wondering ‘why this health care person is interested in being president of the Alaska Pacific University?’” Davidson said. “And a lot of folks were surprised to know that I'm actually an education person who learned how to do health care.”

Davidson says she has been fascinated by education since she was 4 years old. Her career actually began in early childhood education

“And as my career has transitioned into health care, I've always been mindful that education really is the key to addressing many of the issues that we face today. And it's interesting that everything I've done really continues to lead me back here to my passion for education.”

And while she’s apprehensive of calling herself a leader, her skills and experience have made her a valuable person within the state of Alaska and among Alaska Native people and organizations.

She also served as Walker’s lieutenant governor after Byron Mallot’s resignation in October 2018. Walker would suspend his bid to run for governor again, and his term ended in December of that year.

Davidson credits out-going president Bob Onders with setting a solid foundation for her to continue in developing the university.

“APU has really been fortunate to have Dr. Bob Anders as the university president for the last couple of years, who really brought some structure and stability and a partnership with ANTHC, also provided some financial stability to the organization.”

She’s referring to the partnership that the university formed with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to help the school become a tribal university. APU is eligible for some federal funds for being a Native -serving institution -- but having the designation as a tribal university will allow it to access more.

With a student body of 500, half of APU’s undergraduate students are Alaska Native or American Indian. She hopes to increase that percentage across the board.

“Our vision is to honor Alaska's Indigenous heritages while exemplifying excellence and preparing paths for our future,” she said. “APU is really uniquely positioned to address some of the challenges that Alaska faces. we really have the opportunity to catalyze the mission, the vision, the values in our partnership with ANTHC to best serve Alaska.”

Meanwhile, Onders is set to return to patient care -- and in community health education at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, according to Indian Country Today.

Davidson begins serving as university president officially April 25.