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1/12/15 - Alaska Airlines donates $1 million to Alaska Native science, engineering education

Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program director said gift will change Alaska

In 2013, the National Governors Association issued a report saying U.S. productivity, economic growth, and innovation are limited by a shortage of workers trained in science, engineering, technology, and math, or STEM. But a recent million-dollar donation may change Alaska’s outlook for STEM workers.

In October, Alaska Airlines pledged a million dollars in travel vouchers over three years to the University of Alaska Anchorage Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP). Tim Thompson, Alaska Airlines’ external affairs manager for the Alaska region, said, "They are one of the top STEM programs, academic programs really in the nation."

Thompson said the donation is a full ten percent of its annual contributions.

"Corporate wide, throughout the entire network, which includes the lower 48, includes Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, you include our entire network we're just a little under ten million dollars, and that includes monetary and in-kind" said Thompson. "But for the state of Alaska this is the largest donation that Alaska Airlines has ever made."

Thompson say the donation fits in with Alaska Airlines’ goals to support youth and education, but will also help with the company’s need for qualified Alaska workers. 

"Those are employees that are pilots, that are in-flights, that are customer service agents, that are mechanics, are ramp service,” said Thompson. “There's a whole plethora of different job opportunities here in the state of Alaska that still need to be filled.  We're looking for a work force that is able to take on those academic challenges and actually be able to succeed," said Thompson.

ANSEP’s mission is to recruit and retain Alaska Native students into engineering and leadership in the profession. ANSEP founder and director Dr. Herb Schroeder said since its start with one student twenty years ago, the program has grown dramatically. "ANSEP is on fire," said Schroeder.

When it first started, ANSEP worked with recent high school graduates.  At students went on through college and graduate school, ANSEP expanded along with its students. And it started working with students in high school. A few years ago, ANSEP realized it needed to work with students at an earlier age.

Now, ANSEP guides and supports students from middle school through graduate school. It began a middle-school academy in 2010 with 54 kids. Two hundred students attended last year. Schroeder said the Alaska Airlines donation will allow ANSEP to more than triple that number.

"We're going to have 650 middle school kids from around the state on our campus each year from now on," said Schroeder. "Those middle school kids that come on our campus for middle school academy, more than 70% of ‘em finish algebra 1 before they graduate from the 8th grade. And the national average for that statistic is 26%. Our Alaska Natve kids are performing at more than three times the national average for algebra 1 completion in 8th grade."

In its occupational forecast issued in October, 2014, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Alaska faces shortages of civil and petroleum engineers, environmental scientists, geoscientists, and computer managers. But Schroeder said the Alaska Airlines donation will make a huge difference.

"The donation is going to help us to change the state forever," said Schroeder. "So, cause those kids that come in here are going to be on track for science and engineering degrees at our university. In 2020, there's going to be 4,000 students in our ANSEP pipeline. If only half of ‘em get science or engineering degrees, it's seven times more than all degrees that have been given to Alaska Natives in the last 18 years."

Through ANSEP students get mentors. They work in teams, and take classes, such as problem solving, so they’re better equipped for college -- both academically and socially.

"Those students when they come to middle school academy, when they graduate, they can immediately come on the campus and do the ANSEP acceleration academies, where they begin to take college courses for credit as soon as they graduate from 8th grade," said Schroeder.

Schroeder said the students get a head start on college, and almost all of them succeed. "Ninety-five percent of ‘em are successful when they show up on our campus," said Schroeder. "And they can do this every year. We even have students now who are still in high school and they’ve finished all the math they need for engineering degrees."

Native -- and non-Native -- students in fifth, sixth, or seventh grade who have at least a “B” average in science and math are eligible for the middle-school academy. Visit the ANSEP website for information about its high school, college, and graduate school programs and scholarships.


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