Get Susan Anderson talking about her work, and it is quickly obvious there is nothing she would rather be doing. Anderson, president and CEO of The CIRI Foundation (TCF), is clearly dedicated to the Foundation’s efforts to make a positive impact on thousands of people’s lives.
The way she sees it, her work “is more of a calling than a job.”
TCF, a CIRI-affiliated nonprofit, turned 30 on July 9, and there is a lot to celebrate.
TCF serves CIRI original enrollees and their direct lineal descendants by promoting economic self-sufficiency and cultural pride through post-secondary and other career-advancing education. Since its inception, TCF has awarded more than $20 million in grants and scholarships — equaling more than 12,372 awards — to Alaska Native people pursuing college degrees, vocational training and career upgrades. In addition, TCF’s Education and Heritage Project Grant Program has awarded more than $2 million to nonprofit and tribal organizations working to improve education, preserve and perpetuate Native people’s traditional knowledge, as well as to educate others about Alaska Native heritage and culture.
TCF’s impact can be seen and felt throughout the Cook Inlet region, around the state of Alaska, and beyond, from its support of the Alaska Native Heritage Center’s award-winning after-school program; to early learning, reading and language programs in rural communities; to funding Alaska Native scholarship recipients studying at institutions around the world.
Anderson, who is of Tlingit heritage, is an original CIRI enrollee. She is one of the first recipients of TCF’s scholarships, which she used to earn a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in adult education administration. She also obtained a post-graduate certificate in project management.
“Both of my parents were teachers, so it wasn’t if you go to college, it was when you go to college,” she said. “There were teachers along the way who inspired me to always do my best. But a lot of it really was my mom and dad who said, ‘You can do and be anything you want.’ “
The work she does with TCF, and other nonprofits with similar missions, is her way of giving back.
Anderson’s parents met at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. Anderson met her husband, Kevin Tripp, senior archivist at the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association, when she attended college there. Between her TCF responsibilities and her volunteerism, Anderson does not have a lot of down time, but what she does have she spends well by fishing, gathering with friends, supporting the arts, attending cultural events and being an auntie to her niece, nephews and godchildren.
“In Native culture, aunties are the ones who can tell you that straight-up stuff, which some people would say I’m known for — being candid but caring.”
Anderson was selected to attend the Stanford University Executive Program for Philanthropy Leaders and has a long list of volunteer and board service. She has chaired the Alaska Humanities Forum, the United Way of Anchorage and the Best Beginnings Early Learning Council. Anderson has served on the Native Americans in Philanthropy Board and is a Trustee for the University of Alaska Foundation. She was instrumental in convening the Ready to Read, Ready to Learn Task Force: Alaska’s Early Childhood Investment, which became Best Beginnings. In 2010, the governor appointed Anderson to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Such dedication has not gone unnoticed. In 2002, just two years after taking TCF’s helm, the Alaska Journal of Commerce named Anderson one of its “Top 40 Under 40” business leaders. Other honors include a “YWCA Women of Achievement” award, an Alaska Village Initiatives “Chief’s Knife” award and induction into the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce’s ATHENA Society.
“This position pulls together everything that I love to do,” Anderson said of her work with TCF. “It brings resources together for people, especially Alaska Native people, my people. It connects the dots.”