Bank donates $50,000 to UAA science education

Wells Fargo Alaska has donated $50,000 to support the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at UAA. ANSEP is an organization dedicated to getting Native Americans into math, science, engineering and technology.

This is Wells Fargo’s first donation to the ANSEP program. According to the Wells Fargo Web site, the company donates money to programs that have clear potential to make worthwhile contributions to Alaska’s communities and have proven track records of excellence.

Wells Fargo’s Richard Strutz, the regional president in Alaska, said he thinks the donation is a well warranted.

“We are proud to support ANSEP, an exemplary program that is essential to providing leadership in science and engineering fields in Alaska,” Strutz said. “Wells Fargo Alaska is continuing its long-held tradition of contributing resources to Native education in our state.”

Herb Schroeder, associate professor of engineering at UAA and ANSEP’s current director, started the program. Schroeder noticed a lack of Native Alaskan students enrolled in the UAA engineering program and he sought to reverse the trend so engineering firms wouldn’t need to hire students from out of state.

Schroeder began to work with upperclassmen in small rural high schools to get them interested in the math required for success in a university engineering program. He also increased students’ interest in technology by giving them computers to assemble. He allowed students to keep their assembled computer as long as they completed trigonometry and physics classes.

Roy Huhndors, consultant to Schroeder, said this laid the foundation for ANSEP.

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“Dr. Schroeder struck on a simple idea whereby he could whet the appetite of young people for the engineering profession by having them assemble computers,” Huhndors said. “It [ANSEP] is taking off, and it’s attributable to the determination of Dr. Schroeder.”

What started in high schools quickly began in universities. The program’s goals were to soften the university environment in order to prevent students from quitting the program. Students are teamed with peers and professionals and they work together for success. First- and second-year students are also required to meet twice a semester with academic advisers.

“Close to 100 native engineers turned out in the last few years because of this program,” Huhndors said. “Whereas before there was virtually no one.”

Not only did the program catch fire in Alaska at UAA and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but it also was noticed by the University of Washington and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. All schools have a strong indigenous base in their communities and both began their own programs. Together, the four schools became the Pacific Alliance.

Thus far, the alliance has built a model of success. According to the National Science Foundation, the nationwide average Native American retention rate in engineering programs is 27 percent. The ANSEP retention rate stands at more than 70 percent, effectively creating a new standard in higher education.

“Each year the program has been graduating more and more and more,” Huhndors said. “He has done what the Alaska Native community has tried to do and has wanted to do for the last 30 years.”

Today, the ANSEP program continues to move forward. Huhndors said only recently has UAA fully supported the ANSEP program. However, in recent years the university has become much more open to the program, particularly under the eye of current the chancellor, Elaine Maimon.

“That opposition has turned into support; this is a huge jewel in the crown of excellence at UAA,” Huhndors said.