A degree 40 years in the making

By Melissa Carl

Liam Craske. Photo courtesy of Liam Craske.

Liam Craske catches a floatplane every Tuesday morning to Ketchikan, where he rents a room with Internet access. “This is my home for the next three days,” he said. “All I do is study, eat and sleep.”

Craske lives 50 miles northwest in Thorne Bay, but he sticks to this demanding routine because he is committed to completing his degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the place his journey started six decades ago.

Craske, 60, grew up in a two-story log cabin on the northeast side of UAF’s campus, in the area where Walsh Hall now stands. In 1963, his playground was campus, including the new Patty Building’s construction site.

Life then took him to Sitka, Guam and the East Coast. At 15, with a satchel full of this-and-that experiences, he decided he was ready to take on the world solo.

"Having discovered freedom," he said, "I was on my way." 

Craske tried high school a few times but decided he was better suited for the traveling carnival, running games of chance and skill in 42 states.

In the summer of 1976, right around his 21st birthday, Craske decided to seek a formal education again and applied to UAF, which admitted him on academic probation because he didn't have a high school or GED diploma.

During the next four years, Craske worked toward his degree and battled alcoholism. In 1980, he graduated from what is now University of Alaska Southeast with an associate degree in business administration. He hasn't had a drink since 1981.

A Taquan Air floatplane like this one carries Liam Craske each week from Thorne Bay to Ketchikan, where he spends three days attending UAF classes via the Internet and studying. Photo courtesy of Taquan Air.

Based in the Prince of Wales Island area, Craske began fishing commercially, got married, built a home and raised four children. To fine-tune his working knowledge of internal combustion engines, electricity and plumbing — “all realities of owning a commercial fishing boat and homestead” — Craske spent three years at technical schools and became a marine engineer.

A work-related injury forced him to stop fishing in 2010, but “I’m much too young to permanently retire,” he said. “My mind keeps pushing, looking for new or old interests to explore, thus my venture back into the university environment.”

This semester he is taking Cross Cultural Communication: Alaskan Perspectives (ANS 350), an audio conference course, and Human Sexualities Across Cultures (PSY 333), which is supported by UAF’s eLearning. Craske is working his way toward a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies and hopes to launch a new career in health-related service.

"I chose a different path than most," he said, “but my love for the university has been lifelong and I can’t conceive of graduating from a different institution.”

Marissa Carl is the communications specialist for UAF eLearning & Distance Education.

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