Science and Math Camp Encourages Alaska Native Students to Excel

ansep_building.jpgANSEP building in Anchorage. Via

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A science and math camp aims to reach out to Alaska Native students and encourage them to craft, calculate, and compete. The ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp is organized with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, or ANSEP, and puts kids to work on everything from spacecrafts to computers.

This summer, campers got to spend two weeks on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, free of charge, with 48 other middle school students and complete hands-on projects. 11-year-old Kodiak local, Nicholas Dryden, says building a PC was the first task campers took on. He also says it was his favorite activity.

“They ordered monitors for us and blue ray players so that the computer could actually play and read discs, but you had to hook the blue-ray reader up and the CPU, the CPU fan, the motherboard, you put everything in,” he says. “It just came with the computer box itself. Programming took the long part. It only took us about two or three days to build and program the whole computer.”

He says campers participated in contests, and one was a Mars landing simulation.

“You got a hundred dollars, not actually, but as a fake budget and then you would buy stuff like foam sheets or bubble wrap or anything, so the main objective was to get the ball down to the ground softly without the ping pong ball bouncing out.”

Nicholas says his group won and says he feels proud of all that he learned during the camp.

Nicholas is going into 6th grade, but he’s already looking to the future.

Here’s what he imagines himself doing when he gets older.          

“Probably game designing, ‘cause I like games and I like programming stuff, and I’ve looked it up a few times and it pays a pretty good amount of money,” he says.

He’s not the only one thinking ahead. Dahlia Berns, an 11-year-old from Old Harbor, says camp instructors told students about the different career paths open to them. Dahlia says it helped and urges other students to apply.

“If they have the opportunity to go to that camp, they should definitely go, ‘cause it’s amazing really,” says Dahlia. “And it makes your future seem a lot easier and it helps you decide on what you would like to do. It gives more ideas.”

Dahlia says she’d like to go to UAA for college and wants to be an engineer. These are big dreams for a middle-school student, but that’s what ANSEP encourages according to Herb Schroeder, who is the organization’s founder as well as a professor of engineering and ANSEP vice-provost.

“The camp is the first step in a process where we work with those kids from sixth grade all the way through to a P.H.D if they want one,” says Schroeder. “And so what we are really focused on is working on socializing students to the campus and then preparing them academically to come to college.”

Schroeder says Alaska Native students as a demographic are shown to under-perform academically.

“The biggest barrier is that people tell them they can’t do it,” he says. “There’s a lot of bias in the system, even at the university here there’s bias, but in K-12 system, there’s people out there who discourage the kids, just like women are discouraged all over the country from coming and doing science and engineering. It’s very subtle, it’s ‘Oh, that’s a really hard class, you should think about this one.’”

He says ANSEP strives to inspire achievement by motivating its students. The summer program is open to children in grades 5, 6, or 7. To apply or just find out more, visit

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