ANSEP sets lofty goals for coming years
There is no disputing the fact that the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program has produced and continues to churn out great results.
But when you sit right down and look at the statistics, it's positively overwhelming.
ANSEP has reached students in 100 different rural Alaska communities and of those students, 77 percent graduate eighth grade with Level 1 algebra complete. Only 26 percent of students nation-wide graduate with Level 1 algebra, which means that rural Alaska students enrolled in ANSEP are doing three times better than students in the rest of the country.
For high school students who participate in the five-week summer ANSEP academy, 95 percent advance one full level in math and science each summer, resulting in first- and second-level college math and science course completion before they even start post-secondary school.
Since 2010, 80 percent of ANSEP students who have started a University of Alaska undergraduate program in a STEM field are still enrolled and on track to earn their degree, or have graduated.
"It's just awesome," said Herb Schroeder, ANSEP founder and vice provost last week. "Just think of the money that the state could save if we did this with all kids. Kids could graduate high school a year early, saving money there, and then they come into university hyper-prepared, moving through university system faster.
"As a nation, if you're going to lead other nations, you have to be in front."
ANSEP's model is established to support students starting in sixth grade through high school, into science and engineering undergraduate degree programs and even through graduate school to the doctorate level. The focus of each ANSEP component is to provide excitement and empowerment around these science and engineering-based career options.
This month, ANSEP received a financial boost from ExxonMobile Alaska to the tune of $600,000 for a three-year expansion of the program's pre-college academies.
Around 80 percent of ANSEP's annual budget comes from grants and contributions, Schroeder said. The other 20 percent comes from the University of Alaska.
"We're in the process of a broad expansion of our middle school academy," Schroeder said.
That means about 2,000 seventh and eighth graders will travel to Anchorage over the next three years to participate in the program, having the option to take advanced math and science courses that will count as credit in high school.
The academies offer high school and middle school students not only the opportunity to earn advanced credits, but it gives rural students a chance to acclimate to campus life before heading off to college.
"In every component we do, we focus on making sure that students are socially and academically ready to be successful students," Schroeder said. "By the time they get to university, they're used to navigating around in the community and the campus, and these are big things that can be difficult transitions."
As for Exxon, most of its large contributions go toward science and engineering education programs, said Kimberly Jordan, ExxonMobil Alaska's public and government affairs coordinator.
"We are a technology industry ... and we're constantly looking for innovation (so) we're constantly looking to foster that."
Energy is high tech, she added, and the corporation employs close to 20,000 scientists and engineers.
"It's that innovation (which) unlocks the world's resources, so it behooves us to continue to foster that type of education."
Every year, ExxonMobil hosts Bernard Harris Summer Science Camps at universities across the country, including at the University of Alaska Anchorage. ExxonMobil has also provided dozens of internship opportunities for ANSEP students.
ANSEP also recently announced a plan to recruit, train and retain Alaskan students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to help mitigate high teacher turnover rates and a lack of diversity among teachers.
According to an announcement from the program, ANSEP, in conjunction with the deans of the Colleges of Education at University of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks, will create and fund positions to ensure that Alaska's middle and high school as well as university students interested in teaching STEM receive the support they need to earn necessary certifications. A recent study by the UAA Center for Education Policy Research revealed that about 80 percent of rural students are Alaska Native, but fewer than 5 percent of licensed teachers working in the state are Alaska Native. The report also found nearly 75 percent of Alaska's current teachers are from outside Alaska, and in some rural school districts teacher turnover rates are almost 50 percent annually.
"Our objective is to place one ANSEP STEM teacher in every high school in every village in the state within 10 years," Schroeder said. "We have three now, we have 400 to go."
The program will promote teaching as a rewarding career path starting with middle school students; putting them on a track to return to rural communities as teachers and help perpetuate a cycle of success in the education system.
"It will transform those communities. When you have people who want to be in the communities able to teach science and math in the high schools ... it's going to change them forever."
Schroeder added that by 2020, the goal is to have 4,000 students "in the pipeline" from sixth grade through to PhD.
"If only half of those get science and engineering degrees, it's still going to be six times more than all the degrees that Native people have earned in science and engineering in the last 20 years."
Currently there are 1,500 students of various ages in the ANSEP pipeline, with more students on the way thanks in part to a large donation from Alaska Airlines recently that will provide transportation to the academy for rural students.
With higher education in these sought-after disciplines, more Native Alaskans will have "a seat at the table where decisions are made about the land that they have cared for, for 10,000 years," Schroeder said.