Last Thursday and Friday, the newly remodeled ANSEP Academy Building buzzed with excitement as 48 middle school-aged students made empty computer towers come to life. This activity is part of a free 10-day program put on by the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, which immerses sixth through eighth graders in science, technology, math and engineering topics while offering them a chance to experience the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.
“They build the computers, (and then) they keep them … if they agree to complete Algebra 1 by the time they enter high school,” ANSEP Regional Director Audrey Alström said.
Michael Bourdukofsky, ANSEP Chief Operations Officer, said a $6 million grant from the state of Alaska and a $1 million Alaska Airlines travel grant enabled ANSEP to triple the number of ANSEP Middle School Academy sessions offered each year, from four to 12.
Students from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District comprised this session, representing 13 schools within the district. Alström said ANSEP has arranged the academy to count as school time according to the school district, so students don’t have to go home and make up schoolwork missed during the days they were gone.
ANSEP Middle School Director Josephine Mattison led the computer building activity, speaking through a microphone and gesturing to photos shown on a projector at the front of the room. Each student had a manual that listed photos of each part next to their corresponding names.
In addition to Mattison’s instructions, students and adult helpers assisted each other with each step of building the computers.
“It seems like it would be (difficult), but it’s pretty easy,” said Skyview Middle School student Lindsay Ward.
Ward is an aspiring prosthetics designer. She became interested in the field through her mother’s friend, who has full prosthetic leg.
“I watch videos on how they work, and being able to create something like that would be amazing,” Ward said.
Students learned the names and functions of computer parts as they put them together. They also had to be meticulous and careful not to ruin any of the hardware — a simple shock of static electricity or a bent gold prong could prevent a computer from working at all.
“Everything has to be so specific,” said Tebughna School student Jovena Bartels-Salas.
Bartels-Salas worked next to Avery Reed, a sixth grader from Redoubt Elementary School. They didn’t know each other before the ANSEP Middle School Academy started, but within a day they became friends and helped each other through the steps of building their computers.
“At first I was really nervous,” Reed said, but he and Bartels-Salas agreed that making friends turned out to be quite easy.
Reed, an aspiring automobile engineer, joined the academy with a few other students from his school. He said that even though the ANSEP Middle School Academy is free, some of his friends weren’t interested in the program.
“Why wouldn’t you make a computer?” he said. “That’s like once in a lifetime!”
But not all interested applicants were selected to participate.
“Everything they have to do to apply is like putting in a college application. … So it was a lot of work. (Students) had to really want to do it,” said Kenai Peninsula College professor Tracey Withrow, who is a chaperone for this academy session.
Withrow is a former Redoubt Elementary School teacher, and her daughter is attending the academy. She said ANSEP ignited her daughter’s interest in the STEM field and helped other academy students realize “dream” jobs are attainable realities.
“They’re building computers … and now they’re never gonna be like, ‘I can’t do that,’ — because they can do that,” Withrow said.
Two days after the students completed their computers, they went to the Seward SeaLife Center. Alström said they will also stress test balsa wood bridges, learn about earthquake engineering, and do activities related to topics in energy and biology throughout the remainder of the week.
Nov. 22 will be the students’ last day on campus.