UAF Bristol Bay Campus director retiring after 15 years

Jun 16, 2017

Debi McLean has been the director of the Bristol Bay Campus in Dillingham since 2002. She retires at the end of the month.

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

After 15 years serving as the University of Alaska Bristol Bay Campus director in Dillingham, Debi McLean is retiring at the end of the month. McLean’s tenure has been marked by extensive grant writing. She estimates that during her time as director she has successfully applied for “tens of millions” of grant dollars.

“Well I was extremely lucky. At the time I took the directorship there was a lot of minority serving money out there. So we were able to get USDA, HUD grants, NOAA grants, Title III grants,” says McLean.

Just this year, the campus received two Title III grants totaling $5 million. Title III grants are federal grants aimed at helping institutions of higher education to become self-sufficient and to serve low-income students.

McLean came to Bristol Bay in 1993 after completing her doctorate of education at the University of Memphis. She travelled to villages, teaching service workers about early childhood education. She has conducted research on children’s knowledge of subsistence skills and how traditional knowledge is shared. That interest has influenced her work as campus director.

“Every time I write a grant, we put in culturally relevant and traditional classes,” says McLean. “So we’ve been able to expand and really provide a lot of traditional training through the western style training, but using elders and culture bearers.”

During her time in leadership, the campus has improved and expanded its buildings, developed a sustainable energy and environmental studies program and started a nursing program. The Bristol Bay Campus also recently expanded its operation to the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. McLean sees that as a key area of development for the next director.

“Now we’ve doubled our population size as well as the size of the area we’re serving. If we can get the grants, what you see here is what we’ll try to do down there. We’ll find out what their needs are and try to work with them the best we can.”

June 30 is McLean’s last day. While she looks forward to travelling during her retirement, she plans on sticking around in Dillingham, the city where she has put down roots.

Cynthia Rogers will replace McLean as director. Most recently Rogers served as the Anchorage School District’s compensation and benefits director. She has also worked in administrative and teaching roles at the University of Alaska Southeast, Eastern Washington University, and University of Alaska Anchorage. Rogers is expected to arrive in Dillingham in August. 

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.