About the Project

Mission Statement

Outer Coast seeks to teach and inspire promising young people to create virtuous change in the world and in their own lives. It aims to accomplish this mission by providing a rigorous and challenging academic curriculum marked by exceptional pedagogy and faculty engagement; by imparting the value of labor and service to a diverse student body entrusted with broad powers of self-governance; by cultivating love for community and respect for nature within the setting of Sitka, Alaska; by fostering creativity, curiosity, honesty, generosity, resilience, self-reliance, and good humor; and by accompanying students in their search for self-understanding and moral worth.

Whom We Serve

The student body of Outer Coast will be national and international in breadth, and diverse in many ways, including race, gender, and socioeconomic status. The project will make a special effort to recruit students from Alaska, particularly Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans, as well as high-achieving students from underserved backgrounds.

North Pacific Hall, Sheldon Jackson Campus. Credit: Berett Wilber.
© Berett Wilber

Brief History of the Project

Founded in 1878, Sheldon Jackson College was the oldest institution of higher learning in Alaska until its closure in 2007. At that time, title to the deteriorating campus was transferred to the nationally recognized Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

In the ensuing years, led by the inspiring vision of the Fine Arts Camp, the community of Sitka rallied to restore the campus in perhaps the largest volunteer effort in the history of Alaska.

Today the Sitka Fine Arts Camp runs its summer programs on the Sheldon Jackson Campus to national acclaim, filling Sitka with tremendous creative energy.

In summer 2014, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins began discussing the possibility of founding a new college on the campus in partnership with the Fine Arts Camp and the Deep Springs College community. Conversations on this front continue.

In January 2015, Jonathan visited Deep Springs College to explore adapting its model to Sitka. (For more on Deep Springs, a small, highly successful two-year liberal arts college in the desert of California, read this article or see this compilation of media coverage.) While there, Jonathan met Will Hunt, a second year student who subsequently committed to move to Sitka in the fall to join the effort to create a Deep Springs-inspired college on Sheldon Jackson Campus.

Full-time work to create Outer Coast began September 2015. A four-person principal team of Jonathan, Will, Stephanie Gilardi, and Javier Botero convened in Sitka, with several members uprooting their professional and personal lives to move to Sitka and devote themselves to the project. In mid-November, the team organized a two-day convening on the campus, bringing together collaborators from Sitka, Alaska, and the Lower 48 to contribute to the vision of Outer Coast.

Through the following year, Jonathan, Will, Stephanie, and Javier worked on the disparate aspects of creating a college, from accreditation to pedagogy to fundraising to admissions and recruitment.

In the fall of 2016, the principal team expanded to include Bryden Sweeney-Taylor, Cecilia Dumouchel, and Harry Choee. At that time, the core team of collaborators convened once more in Sitka to synthesize collective energy and develop a strategic vision for the project’s second year of operations.

All aspects of the Outer Coast project are actively progressing through present (March 2016).