SOLDOTNA, AK (August 4, 2011) – Rae Fancher grew up in the impoverished rural Alaskan villages of Bethel and Unalakleet, where she bore a lot of the responsibility to care for her younger brothers and sister. The teenager was bitter and angry.
Today she is the first female Alaska Native graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Fancher credits Alaska Christian College (ACC) with making it possible.
The school’s mission is “to empower Alaska Natives through biblically based education and Christian formation to pursue excellence in character, learning, and service as followers of Christ.” The college is a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska (ECCAK).
Fewer than five percent of Alaska Native high school graduates complete their first semester of college, statistics show. ACC helps students – most from small and even remote villages – transition through their first years of college.
Fancher, 25, intended to join the Navy, but needed to wait a year after she graduated high school. Her older brother had attended ACC, and when he returned home, she saw the college had made a difference in his life. “It was something I wanted for myself,” she told the Peninsula Clarion newspaper recently.
Fancher was forced to adapt to numerous cultural changes when she attended the college. Those changes were as small as getting used to paved roads in Soldotna – there were none where she grew up.
While at the school, Fancher was talking with a visiting missionary to the school and shared her dream of joining the Navy. The missionary replied, “Well if you’re going to college and you want to go into the Navy, go to the Naval Academy so you can get both done.”
That was the inspiration she needed. At the time she only knew the Naval Academy was in Maryland and that it was a four-year school.”
She was accepted into the school in 2006, and so began the biggest cultural shock of her life. It almost led her to quit pursuing her dream.
The rigorous schedule and military discipline overwhelmed her. She averaged only three to four hours of sleep each night. It wasn’t until months before graduation that she began to enjoy the experience.
“Up until that point, it was me knowing that this is where God has brought me, this is where Christ has led me, so I’m going to stay the path as much as I hated it,” she says. “Second semester senior year, I was like, ‘You know what, I really like this, I really enjoy this.’ ”
Her GPA was indicative of her struggles. It was only 1.76 at one point, but she graduated with a 3.7.
Fancher is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, as an Ensign. She recently served as the assistant fire control officer working with the Aegis Weapon System aboard the destroyer, USS Jason Dunham.
Fancher hopes her accomplishments will spur young people in Alaskan villages to pursue their own dreams. Last year, she shared her story with campers at the Unalakleet Bible Camp, another ECCAK ministry.
She told them, “Just open yourself up to God and let him do his work, because it’s amazing what he’ll bring you.”
Fancher adds, “I take every opportunity I can to share that.”