KPC graduates cite family, professors as inspiration

“That’s my daughter!” Mark Bevans shouted across the packed auditorium at Kenai Central High school as Kenai Peninsula College professor Henry Haney told Kristin Pruett she was one of the best students he’d ever taught.


In the school courtyard after KPC’s 50th Graduation Ceremony, Pruett attributed her success to help from her two professors’, Haney and Jeffrey Laube, who now publicly recognized her persistence and drive to excel.

On stage, Haney said Pruett would have received a perfect grade point average for her degree in Applied Science in Process Technology, had it not been for a few decade-old transfer grades.

Pruett said she had moved to Alaska for a fresh start, and began taking courses at KPC that would eventually help get a job in the oil and gas industry.

Pruett quickly made school the central focus of her life on the Kenai Peninsula; often emailing and calling her teachers after hours for extra help.

Pruett said she has an interview set up with Schlumberger, a leading supplier of technology for the oil and gas business. She is ready to start her new career immediately, she said.

Jeffrey Smardo also watched his daughter, Naomi Jael-Smardo, graduate, right after receiving his own diploma. Jael-Smardo was slated to walk across the stage first, but insisted her father switch spots with her.

With 11 children, and work as a full-time paramedic and firefighter in Nikiski, Smardo only had time for just one class a semester. In a few years he will retire and said he would like to teach on the Kenai Peninsula.

“Naomi put so much into college,” he said.

Jael-Smardo said she plans to continue her education at KPC until she is forced to move on, then she will pursue a career in dentistry, she said.

“I never want to leave,” Jael-Smardo said. She, too, credited her staff as major factors in her positive experience.

When Mathematics professor’s Bettie Wallace and Clair Kochis saw Jael-Smardo struggling with the subject, they approached her and urged her on. The investment of the staff in their students is astonishing, Jael-Smardo said.

Kimberly Rudge-Karic’s 91-year-old mother made the trip from San Diego to watch her daughter graduate that evening. Rudge-Karic started taking classes at KPC in 1984.

At the end of the upcoming fishing season Rudge-Karic plans to make the leap to biologist after being a fisheries technologist 3 for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for three decades.

“I completed a life goal of mine,” Rudge-Karic said.

Jimmy Andrews received a bachelor’s in Liberal Studies, after dedicating the last seven years of his life to his education.

“Whew!” Andrews said. “It’s been a long haul!”

Andrews will be the first in his family to be getting a degree. It is a great feeling, he said.

The reception cleared out, and volunteers began to pack up the leftover food and decorations. Andrews grabbed both hands with his daughter Janeva Andrews and slowly twirled with her to the last song playing in the hall.


Kelly Sullivan can be reached at


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