About 20 percent of students who received scholarship money from the Koniag Education Foundation in 2008 ended up dropping out of college. In 2010 the foundation received a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a program that would encourage Koniag shareholders and descendants to stay in college. KEF Executive Director Tyan Hayes says the foundation was inspired by the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage to create a way for students handle the stress of being far away from home while pursuing higher education. KEF created a website where students can contact mentors and discuss college life with their peers. Now the dropout rate is at three percent. Hayes says camaraderie among the students is one of the most effective ways to keep them in college.
"I really think that the key to it is having the students being able to relate to each other peer-to-peer. We’re also helping to facilitate student gatherings where they can recreate that closed-knit environment that many of them come from and so they’re able to support each other in that way as well."
Hayes says students use the site to reach out to their peers and mentors.
"They can network with each other and provide that support structure. Also, our students attend school all over the country. It really facilitates discussion and networking amongst a lot of students who are experiencing the same thing, just at different levels."
Their mentorship program, which was established in 2009, has also been integrated into the site. Students can easily access information about available mentors and choose one that they best relate to. Hayes says that mentorship has been another integral element in reducing the dropout rate.