Alaska Natives Are Claiming Their Seat at the Table

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program is combating the belief that “natives were not smart enough” to hold degrees or jobs in STEM fields.

Three decades ago, Herb Schroeder was working as a professor and engineer for the University of Alaska, researching rural sanitation. But in that work, he never met a native Alaskan engineer.

So in 1995, he decided to change that, by founding the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program within UAA to support Alaska natives from kindergarten through doctorate in the STEM fields.

“He realized, If there were more Alaska native engineers working, there wouldn’t be people from outside making big decisions,” said Michele Yatchmeneff, an ANSEP alumnus and UAA’s executive director of Alaska education and outreach. “It would actually be our Alaska native students making those decisions for their communities.”

Now, ANSEP’s yearlong Acceleration Academy allows students to attend UAA full-time as high school students, taking regular college courses and earning college credits. They also have the opportunity to experience professional internships in STEM industries, like oil and gas and conservation. The vast majority of their students identify as native Alaskans. 

“One of the main reasons ANSEP was founded was because it was believed that Alaska natives were not smart enough to hold degrees or positions in the STEM field,” said Cody Kapotak, an ANSEP alumnus and a coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service Partnership.

Watch, in the mini documentary above, how ANSEP is changing that perception, empowering Alaska natives, and giving them a seat at the table.

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