Supporting Alaska Native students through education

Dr Herb Schroeder from the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Programme (ANSEP) outlines why it’s integral to develop the skills of Alaska Native students

Alaska is a huge place with a very limited road infrastructure. Alaskans rely upon air travel to get to the bulk of the communities in the state. The people living outside of the metropolitan hubs of Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau rely heavily upon fish and game to subsist. These communities are not connected to the power grid. Alaska Native people have lived here for 10,000 years.

Alaska rural communities face many unique challenges, including challenges to development and economic self-sufficiency; geography and climate; isolation; unemployment; high cost and low standards of living; and infrastructure issues including lack of clean water and sewers. There are 737,000 people in Alaska and 143,000 Alaska Native people. About 22.6% of the K-12 students in the state are Alaska Native, and most rural schools have fewer than 100 K-12 students. Many students never receive preschool education, due the schools being geographically isolated and teachers are difficult to find and retain. This is particularly so for math and science teachers. As a result, the coursework required to be prepared for STEM BS degrees is often not available in the schools. Rural Alaskan villages have some of the worst literacy rates in the nation. Also, Alaska Native students are less likely to pass standard tests than any other demographic, and are more likely to drop out of school than any other demographic.

The 2014 ACT College Readiness Benchmark scores show that 5% of Alaska Natives meet all four benchmarks. The percentage meeting the individual benchmarks are:

  • Science 7%
  • Math 15%
  • English 21%
  • Reading 15%

This presents a formidable challenge when moving students through the university and into graduate school and the professions. Yet, the Urban Institute has shown that ANSEP

students at every level are successful at rates higher than national averages for all students.

The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Programme (ANSEP)

Started in 1995, the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Programme (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is a community that includes more than 100 industry partners, philanthropic organisations, as well as federal and state agencies. These organisations provide financial support, internships, research projects and advocacy. There are more than 2,000 ANSEP students from sixth grade through the PhD.

The ANSEP Components

Middle School Academy

Middle School Academy is a two-week, residential, science and engineering experience. Academy students build a top end PC from scratch and earn the right to keep it by successfully completing algebra 1 prior to eighth grade graduation, complete hands on science and engineering projects in teams of 3, live in the university residence halls, and experience what it is like to be a scientist or engineer. Each Academy has 54 students, half boys and half girls. The Urban Institute has found that 77% of the Academy students meet the goal of completing algebra 1 before eighth grade graduation. The national average for all students is 26%.

STEM career Explorations

STEM Career Explorations keeps middle school students excited and engaged each subsequent year they are in middle school. Career Explorations brings students who have successfully completed the Academy back to campus for an intense five-day hands-on project based exploration exercise. Eligible students must be making progress toward finishing algebra 1 prior to eighth grade graduation.

Acceleration Academy

Acceleration Academy is for high school students. Students benefit from having direct access to a college environment, university faculty, and an encouraging peer group. Students are engaged with hands-on engineering and science projects, whilst enrolling in college-level classes, taught by UAA faculty. The Urban Institute has found that 95% of students advance at least 1 full level in math or science during each session.

Acceleration High School

Acceleration High School is a year round full-time high school. We kicked it off in August 2016. It is modelled after the summertime ANSEP Acceleration Academy, which we started in 2010. In the school, university faculties are instructors and students who earn dual (high school and university) credit. This decreases the time to high school graduation while allowing students to earn 30-50 university credits towards an engineering or computer science degree and solves the problem of students arriving at the University underprepared. It also saves the state K12 funding, increases retention, and saves students and their families at least a year of tuition and living expenses. Instruction in the school is collaborative, experiential, inquiry and research based, culturally appropriate, and involves peer and professional mentoring, skill building seminars, academic advising, intensive academic enrichment, and career awareness.

Summer Bridge

During the Summer Bridge, new high school graduates live on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, work full-time in paid professional internships doing real work in the oil industry, with state and federal agencies, or university and agency laboratories, and complete 160 hours of calculus or science instruction for university credit. Some students work out in the field while others gain experience working in a corporate setting, but all students broaden their knowledge of career opportunities as they focus on solving real-world problems in engineering and science. It is designed to be a fast paced, challenging experience with the opportunity to earn scholarship support and develop professional networks for future internships and careers.

University Success

The University Success component fosters an engaged learning community focused on academic success and professional development. During University Success, students are teamed in an academic community and, supported by peers and professionals, work together for success.

University success students earn scholarships, work in organised peer study groups, benefit from skill building seminars, gather in the ANSEP Building, benefit from academic advising, internships, research experiences, peer and professional mentoring, conference participation, career awareness, GRE test preparation, graduate school admissions support and undergraduate research. The Urban Institute has found that 75% of ANSEP University students since 2010 have graduated or are still enrolled.

Alaska Grown PhD

The Alaska Grown PhD provides access to tenure track faculty positions in engineering and science on our campus. The component has produced 2 PhDs so far and both are in the UAA College of Engineering faculty. Dr. Matt Calhoun is the only Alaska Native PhD in the world in civil engineering and Dr Michele Yatchmeneff is the only Alaska Native PhD in the world in Engineering Education. Both earned their undergraduate degrees as ANSEP students.

 

Dr Herb Schroeder

Alaska Native Science & Engineering

Programme (ANSEP)

Tel: +1 907 786 1860

herb@alaska.edu

http://www.ansep.net/

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