Two Kodiak Middle School students are in Anchorage this week participating in the STEM Career Explorations program. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the explorations program encourages kids to pursue those career fields by allowing them to participate in STEM-related activities at a younger age.
“So anything from going down to the Sea Life Center and dissecting a squid to building a computer with ANSEP.”
That’s Josephine Edwards-Vollertsen, a regional director for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, also known as ANSEP. ANSEP hosts a Middle and High School Academy that provides a similar introduction and familiarization with STEM, but Edwards-Vollertsen said the career exploration sessions serve as an “inbetween” for the two academies.
“For some of our students who participated in Middle School Academy at the youngest grade, which is fifth grade, there was quite a big gap before they would be eligible for our high school program. So that’s why we created this program, is to continue to engage with our students and participate with ANSEP and STEM activities and college readiness.”
Kodiak Middle School Students Eli Griffin and Avrey Hansell traveled to Anchorage for the exploration program and were able to live on University of Alaska Anchorage’s campus while attending the sessions.
Edwards-Vollertsen said the whole idea is to get students on campus and experience what college life might be like while encouraging them to consider a degree within the STEM fields. She added that part of the program also requires the student to agree, along with their parents, to successfully complete Algebra I by 8th grade graduation.
“And we want students to do that so that they will be on an academic track when they get into high school for higher level math and sciences classes which will them prepare them for entering a STEM degree at the university level.”
ANSEP was founded in 1995 by Dr. Herb Schroeder to push more Alaska Natives to enter STEM professions.
“Through his work with the university and some research he was doing around the state he was not coming across any Alaska Native STEM professionals. And at that time the university had very low graduation numbers or Alaska Native students involved or enrolled in STEM degrees.”
She said the programs offered through ANSEP target Alaska Natives, but are open to all who are eligible. In order to qualify for the STEM Career Explorations sessions students must have participated in the ANSEP Middle School Academy and submit an application and essay. They can’t have entered high school yet, and need to have good grades and test scores, specifically in math and science. Edwards-Vollertsen said the biggest component is that a student must also be on track to complete the Algebra I course by the end of 8th grade.
The explorations program is split into two five day sessions. Last week students focused on 3-D modeling and this week they are learning about permafrost.
Overall, Edwards-Vollertsen said students walk away with an idea of what college life might be like, and a greater drive to pursue a STEM degree.