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Sharing ideas and inspiration for engagement, inclusion, and excellence in STEM

The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program: Developing Leaders

What if there were a way to set students up for STEM success starting in kindergarten and going all the way through graduate school?

The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) does just that. Specifically, it “offers intensive academic support, exposure to industry, and the opportunity to participate in a learning community incorporating Alaska Native cultural identity” throughout students’ entire educational careers, according to a report by the Urban Institute.

ANSEP is open to all students, but recruitment efforts focus on Alaska Native students and other student groups underrepresented in Alaska’s STEM workforce.

More than 100 partner organizations support ANSEP’s work, and about 2,500 Alaska Native students are involved in the program.

Students who attend ANSEP’s Middle School Academy participate in various hands-on STEM activities, such as building a computer. 
Photo source: Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program.

Academic Opportunities Available

From kindergarten through fifth grade, students can participate in STEM career exploration projects through the ANSEP STEM Academy. Once students move on to middle school, they can continue their participation in ANSEP via three opportunities: STEM Connect (which provides students with virtual STEM activities they can do at home), Career Explorations (a five-day summer program), and Middle School Academy

For incoming and current high school students, ANSEP has both a summer and full-time Acceleration Academy. Both options give high school students an opportunity to take college classes—and go from eighth grade to earning a bachelor’s degree in five years. 

ANSEP’s Summer Bridge program is geared toward students who have just graduated from high school. Through this 10-week program, students have a paid internship in engineering, science, or business with one of ANSEP’s strategic partners. Students who successfully complete the program are eligible for a University of Alaska scholarship. 

(Note: ANSEP is currently accepting applications for the full-time spring Acceleration Academy for high school students, as well as the 2022 Summer Bridge program.)

At the postsecondary level, ANSEP offers the comprehensive University Success program and the Alaska Grown PhD program.

ANSEP offers internships for recent high school graduates and college students. 
Photo source: Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program.

Coming Full Circle

Since ANSEP began in 1995, hundreds of Alaska Native participants have graduated from college with STEM degrees—including Michele Yatchmeneff, who is an associate professor of engineering at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Dr. Yatchmeneff is an Unangax̂ (Aleut) woman, and she served as ANSEP’s assistant director for more than seven years before recently becoming executive director of Alaska Native education and outreach for the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“I found that, in addition to academic college readiness, ANSEP provides a sense of community and emotional support that prepares students for higher education,” Dr. Yatchmeneff said in an article for the Anchorage Press. “A leading factor in Alaska Natives pursuing STEM degrees is feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance. While pursuing my doctorate in engineering education, I became incredibly passionate about finding a better way to help other Alaska Native students succeed in STEM education. ANSEP helped me achieve my dreams, and I hope I’m inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders too.”

ANSEP Innovation and Success during COVID

ANSEP focuses on just one state: Alaska. However, the program’s innovative approach to supporting STEM students at all grade levels is one that other states could potentially adapt to their specific context. 

Further, ANSEP’s commitment to both valuing and celebrating Native culture, as well as increasing the diversity of the state STEM workforce, are important cornerstones of any STEM program, regardless of location. 

Does your school or university offer a program similar to ANSEP? Let us know on Twitter! Simply tag us (@VernierST) and use the hashtag #CelebrateNativeCultureinSTEM.

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