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Fire and ice: Nontraditional summer tools at Ilisagvik

July 4th, 2014 | By Maria Falvey Print this article   Email this article  

What's it like, summer in the Arctic? It's vast, open and cold - seriously cold, but not always. The Arctic is also the home of the midnight sun and a sky so blue you feel as though you can swim through it. On just such a late spring day, beneath a canopy of brilliant blue, they arrived.

They came from the college town of Fairbanks, with its graceful mountains and lush evergreens. They came from places with names that inspire like, Point Hope. They came from small villages I've only heard of from elders in stories woven like fairytales. They arrived with one thing in common, a hunger for a place to learn. Despite being teenagers - some in their senior year and others recent graduates - they knew what they had to do. They knew where they had to go. The path was less traveled, but clearly well-established. Each bravely pushed the familiar aside, worked arduously, traveled far outside their comfort zones. Collectively, they found treasure at the top of the world, in the native village of Barrow, and inside the Quonset huts of Iḷisaġvik.

Two men, both familiar with the North Slope and all of its challenges, as well as its rewards, greeted the adventurers with firm handshakes. These two instructors could have easily sent the young skill-seekers on snipe hunts or scowled and frightened the magical optimism (that only a student can possess) right out of them. Instead, Brian Neely, Assistant Professor of Vocational and Technical Trades (a seasoned welding instructor), and Rob Carrillo, Lead Coordinator of Distance Education, explained the course, projects ahead, what was expected and safety rules to live by. Once the lessons had been learned, these two men gave the adventurers the gift of FIRE.

Brian watched with pride as they put the facts, figures, and equations they'd learned into practice each day and Rob captured every expression of surprise and self-satisfied grin on film. The men watched the "kids" come of age, learn, make discoveries and walk across the melting tundra to their dormitories physically worn-out, yet stimulated from meeting their demanding syllabus. Summer camp is traditionally thought of as a place for frolic, a time to be frivolous, but these campers were determined to gain mad skills in the challenging trade of welding

so they worked hard, sweated hard, and studied harder still, and from May 25th through June 7th, they lived and breathed this intensive summer camp.

Few gifts come without responsibility, and this was no exception. These campers learned this lesson every hour as they mastered the arc, controlled the beads, created corner joint welds and graduated to the plasma cutter and created useful items such as weight racks for the gym and artistic pieces like a brushed aluminum plasma cut logo for Iḷisaġvik. So what's it like, summer in the Arctic? It's a place of ice, a place to find warmth. A place to experience, a place to explore one's strengths and weaknesses... It's Iḷisaġvik, a place to learn.

For more information Iḷisaġvik College Summer Camps and other programs, call 1-800-478-7337 ext. 1792 or visit

Maria Falvey is the Administrative Assistant to Workforce Development at Iḷisaġvik College. When she isn't contributing to the daily processes at Iḷisaġvik, Maria creates literary snapshots at of her life in the Arctic and beyond.


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