September 22, 2022
Susan Anderson, long-time President/CEO, will depart
The CIRI Foundation in 2023
She leaves behind 23 years of impact, partnership and revitalization
(ANCHORAGE, AK) – “I get to be the fairy godmother,” Susan Anderson, President/CEO of The CIRI Foundation (TCF) says. During her 23 years with the Foundation, her 23rd anniversary will be Oct. 4, Susan has impacted the lives and families of thousands of people through scholarships and grants. Yielding a pen versus a wand, her commitment to education, culture and heritage will have a monumental ripple effect for decades to come.
Susan, who is Tlingit and a CIRI Shareholder, joined TCF in 1999, relocating from Bellingham, WA back home to Alaska where she has roots in Southeast Alaska and was raised in Anchorage, Eagle River, Valdez and Seward. As a former scholarship recipient of the Foundation – Susan had left Alaska to attend Western Washington University. After obtaining her undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, Susan became a teacher before finding her true calling to support education and Alaska Native people in a different way.
“Being able to help others achieve life-changing education and cultural goals has been an amazing way to give back to my people for many years. The stories of folks who have told me it was a call with me that kept them in school instead of dropping out or stories of people pursuing more cultural connections and moving home to Alaska – those are the reasons I loved being part of this team and working for our people,” says Anderson.
TCF is a private Alaska Native foundation originally founded by Cook Inlet Region, Inc. in 1982. It has a mission to promote individual self-development and economic self-sufficiency through education and to maintain pride in culture and heritage among Alaska Native people who are original enrollees of Cook Inlet region and their descendants.
“As an original Director, I was pleased when we hired Susan Anderson as the President/CEO of the Foundation, and since then she has become a fantastic leader in education in Alaska and the entire country. Thousands of Alaska Native people have benefited from scholarships and grants to improve their quality of life, and moved on to become our future leaders. Susan has amazing passion for her work and involvement with students as they seek higher education, and also groups that support Native cultural arts and activities. As someone who believes education is the key to improving civilization, I have enjoyed the many years working with Susan to further our goals of supporting quality education for our students,” says Dr. Jeff Gonnason, Chair, TCF Board of Directors.
One of TCF’s major goals is to encourage the education and career development of its people through offering scholarships and grants – a goal that has soared under Susan’s leadership. From being surrounded by stacks of paper applications around a table in the 90’s to awarding over 600 applications a year with an online application system – today, TCF has become one of the largest private foundations in the state in terms of annual giving.
TCF has approved more than 18,000 awards, 14,000 of which have been under Susan’s time with TCF. Since inception, more than $41 million dollars have been awarded toward post-secondary education.
In addition to its own programs, TCF has become an education pillar for Alaska Native students often helping organizations develop their own programs, sharing resources, advocating for Alaska Native students and more. Through continued collaboration, TCF has grown its partnership funding to include Eklutna, Inc., Ninilchik Native Association, Inc., Salamatof Native Association, Inc. and Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Inc. – creating a one-stop funding hub for students.
Under Susan’s stewardship, TCF has not only increased its scholarship programming, but has become a front-runner in supporting Alaska Native heritage and cultural work across the state, garnering the attention of a large national foundation whose funding allowed TCF to create the Journey To What Matters program (JWM). JWM was new and special to Alaska – focusing on the revitalization of Alaska Native Arts and Culture throughout the state, across generations and communities – especially in rural areas. More than $2.23 million has benefitted Alaska Native artists throughout the state with another $1.4 million on the way as the program begins its 10th year.
Her on-the ground approach allowed Susan and her team to connect with artists, leaders and communities in alliance – through those connections TCF was able to meet the needs of Alaska Native artists and communities in the revitalization of traditional art practices.
Those connections lead to initiatives outside just granting-making such as creating grantee resources like the Alaska Native Artists Resource and Grant Writing Handbook; creative ways to foster and grow emerging artists, working with museums on indigenous exhibition and collection spaces through guidance and curatorial museum fellowships, and leveraging other funding sources toward this important work.
“For many of us in the TCF Family and Alaska Native Community, Susan Anderson is synonymous with The CIRI Foundation. TCF has flourished for years under Susan’s guidance and leadership – that work has set us up to support generations of people, artists and communities to come,” says Kyla Morris, TCF Vice President/Director of Programs.
Susan has strategically overseen the growth of the Foundation to an organization with up to 10 full-time team members, an operating endowment of $68 million at its peak, and more than 8 different grant and scholarship programs. Susan’s philosophy of being the sinew that connects our people to each other and additional resources has been exemplified though her leadership style and various roles in the community including many years on the University of Alaska Foundation board, Philanthropy Northwest board, Native Americans in Philanthropy board, the Best Beginnings board and her appointment to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. She is a current board member for the Alaska Children’s Trust, Cook Inlet Native Head Start and an Alaska Pacific University Trustee.
About The CIRI Foundation
The CIRI Foundation’s (TCF) primary goal during the past 40 years has been to encourage the education and career development of Alaska Native enrollees and their descendants of Cook Inlet Region. A second, and equally important goal, has been to perpetuate, promote and enhance the heritage of the Region’s indigenous people through programs that foster appreciation and understanding about the Region’s Native traditions. The Foundation and its programs are funded primarily by its 15 endowments and private donations. TCF was established in 1982 by Cook Inlet Region, Inc.