Sealaska Invests in Future Alaska Native Scientists and Engineers Through ANSEP

Sealaska is increasing its involvement in the education of shareholders and descendants long before they are eligible for a college scholarship. One example is our sponsorship of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) Middle School Academy.

ANSEP, as the program is known, is based at the University of Alaska. Over the past 20-plus years, the program has evolved into a pipeline of programming for Alaska Native students, beginning in middle school all the way through the post-graduate level. The idea is to introduce Alaska Native youth to real-world STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) projects. This can spark an early interest in related careers and college in general.

In 2019, Sealaska provided $50,000 to support the Middle School Academy and assisted with targeted outreach to students in Southeast Alaska. Through the partnership with Sealaska and other corporations and donors, there is no cost for students to attend.

Students spend 12 days at the academy, during which they build their own desktop computers, work on a balsa-wood bridge to learn about earthquake engineering, learn about energy efficient construction, and many other hands-on projects. Each academy hosts around 50 students from across Alaska, and students work in teams on all the activities.

Heather Powell is a school administrator with Hoonah City Schools and a Tlingit language instructor. One of her sons, R.J. Didrickson Jr., attended ANSEP’s Middle School Academy in 2018 as a sixth grader. Her perspective on the program is that of a Tlingit culture bearer, an educator and a mom.

“We have a lot of real-world, place-based learning and are able to use our environment and traditional ways of being in an amazing way in Hoonah City Schools,” said Powell. “But, being able to bridge that into real-world careers and help them have a footing in each side is an awesome thing.”

The primary goal of the middle school part of the ANSEP pipeline, according to ANSEP Regional Director Michael Bourdukofsky, is to see middle schoolers complete Algebra I before entering high school.

“When students complete Algebra I by eighth grade, they’re on a better math track all the way through high school,” he said. “Even if they never participate with ANSEP again, they’re on track to complete calculus in high school and be hyper-prepared to pursue STEM careers in college.”

ANSEP’s Middle School Academy started in 2010 with just one cohort per year, but is now offered 10 times per year, throughout the school year and during the summer. Students who attend sign a contract with their home school district to be excused from their regular classes and homework for the duration of the program.

Bourdukofsky said 75 percent of Middle School Academy participants meet the goal of completing Algebra I before high school, which compares to a national average (without respect to ethnicity, gender or economic background) of only 26 percent. Those who continue in the ANSEP pipeline through high school are likely to earn a substantial number of college credits before graduation, improving college graduation rates and saving families thousands of dollars in tuition.

Kalli Harris, a Hoonah seventh grader who attended the Middle School Academy as a sixth grader and is currently taking pre-algebra, said before the academy she didn’t really care about science or engineering.

“Afterwards, I found it was very interesting and just a fun thing to do,” Harris said. Her thoughts were echoed by fellow students Didrickson (Powell’s son) and Nikima Seetinaax Budke, who also attended the academy last year.

Powell and Bourdukofsky said another important aspect of the program is the on-campus experience. Students live in University of Alaska Anchorage dorms and eat at the cafeteria, which gives them a chance to picture themselves in college.

“A student’s success is built around self-confidence, and they need to believe they’re capable of reaching high goals,” Bourdukofsky said. “Something like spending 12 days away from their families and homes is a huge confidence-building activity.”

In addition to the Hoonah students, young people from Craig, Gustavus, Juneau and Yakutat participated in the Middle School Academy with Sealaska’s support. Right now, Sealaska is working to identify more shareholders and descendants throughout the region to participate.

For more information

  • Check out the ANSEP video on Sealaska’s YouTube channel
  • Visit ANSEP’s website
  • Parents, teachers and administrators who want to know more are encouraged to reach out to ANSEP, (email).