ANSEP pipeline delivers skilled graduates

Photo/Michael Dinneen/AJOC

Rural education can be a winner. The recipe for success is spelled ANSEP.

That stands for Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program, a University of Alaska program that has been helping Alaska Native students, mostly from rural schools, since 1995 with stunning results. 

What’s unusual about ANSEP, but perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise, is that it has grown, and succeeded, outside the usual educational model.

In fact, its start was spurred by industry, by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in a foundation grant in 1995, closely followed by BP in 1996, and since then by a string of other blue-chip companies, Alaska Native corporations and prestigious national groups like the National Academy of Sciences.

“ANSEP is effecting a systemic change in our state and it would not be happening without the advocacy, financial support, and student internships our industry sponsors have provided through the years,” said Herb Schroeder, ANSEP’s director and founder.

Schroeder and Michael Bourdukofky, ANSEP regional director, briefed the House Education Committee in Juneau recently. Bourdukofky, originally from the Pribilof Islands, graduated through ANSEP at the university. Schroeder came into the university from a private sector background.

ANSEP helps Alaska Native students stay the course through difficult four and five-year engineering and science degree programs, and its success is now being widely recognized.

“We are now being supported by about 100 corporations, philanthropic organizations, state and federal agencies, universities, high schools and middle schools,” Schroeder told the legislators.

ANSEP has a track record that is attracting national attention from organizations like the National Science Foundation because of its results, including a high retention rate, which has consistently been about 70 percent. That is far higher than the one-third retention rate for minority students across the nation — and about 50 percent for all U.S. engineering students, Schroeder said.

There are other indicators.

“ANSEP students at every level are successful at rates far exceeding national and state numbers.

“For example, ANSEP middle school students complete algebra 1 before graduating from eighth grade at a rate of 83 percent. The national average is 26 percent.

“Also, more than half of ANSEP high school students graduate ‘engineering ready,’ meaning they are ready to begin engineering classes when they start at the university. Only 4 percent of minority students nationwide do so,” Schroeder said

The numbers tell the story: Since 2002 the University of Alaska has graduated 250 Native engineers and scientists through ANSEP, with 32 graduating in 2012. All now have good jobs. There are about 750 more in the “pipeline,” from middle and high school and continuing through science and engineering degree programs at the university, Schroeder said.

There are also five ANSEP students who have earned masters’ degrees and two who have earned doctorates in Alaska. Other students have earned their Bachelor of Science degree here and then went outside to earn doctorates. One student has earned an medical doctorate and two are headed to medical school next year. There are 16 Alaska Native students enrolled in Master of Science and doctoral programs in science and engineering at the university, Schroeder told the legislators.

ANSEP a continuous string

What’s unique about the ANSEP model is that it provides a continuous string of components.

“We begin with sixth grade and continue on through high school, into science and engineering undergraduate degree programs, and through graduate school to the PhD level.

“We have arrived at this model after 18 years of effort and an awareness that a fragmented approach that focuses on one academic level is not adequate to deal with the scope of the problem and ultimately falls short,” Schroeder said.

There is no secret to ANSEP’s success.

“High standards and a disciplined learning environment are part of it, as well as a lot of work in peer groups, study sessions and mentoring of young Native students by older ones, who also become role models.

“The focus at each level is to provide excitement and empowerment around (professional and technical) careers. Each component is based on the fundamental Native principle of working together in a community,” Schroeder said.

There has been an evolution in ANSEP, however.

“We’ve learned that rural students have to be better prepared when they get here, and we have to start working with them early to get them ready,” Schroeder said.

To accomplish this ANSEP reaches out to rural schools to work with middle and high school students, encouraging them to take more difficult science and math classes.

ANSEP’s high school outreach, now 11 years old, relies mainly on a strategy of building computers and using the computer as a way to encourage interest in math and science. The partners provide the computer components and the machines are assembled in school under guidance of a teacher and an ANSEP staff member from the University of Alaska Anchorage, or UAA.

“They have to sign a contract that they’ll take courses like algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, physics and chemistry, and if they complete them with a C or better they get to keep the computer,” Schroeder said.

The computer is an incentive.

“For today’s kids it’s what a hot rod was to me, when I was growing up,” Schroeder said.

A huge problem is that not all rural schools, particularly small ones, are able to offer the courses needed, and while “distance education,” via teleconferencing at its best, is seen as a partial solution, its success has been mixed, Schroeder said.

ANSEP’s solution was to supplement local schools’ effort with intensive, six-week summer sessions at UAA. This is the summer “Acceleration Academy” where high school students entering their sophomore, junior, and senior years live in UAA dorms and spend several weeks doing intensive math and science, getting the equivalent of a full semester of instruction in six weeks . They earn college credit for each class successfully completed. Many do the academies two years in a row. There were 46 Acceleration Academy students at UAA this summer.

It has became apparent, however, that the Acceleration Academy wasn’t enough, that the outreach should start earlier, in middle school, said Schroeder. Three years ago ANSEP launched its middle school summer program for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. This year there were 115 middle school students at UAA, including students from North Slope Borough schools. They came in two groups with each session lasting two weeks. 

Following high school graduation, many Native and rural students attend ANSEP’s eight-week “summer bridge,” which prepares them for their freshman year at the university. The summer bridge component has an academic focus on math. Students spend part of their time in class instruction and part of the time working alongside professionals with companies or agencies.

The net effect of all this is that all ANSEP students now entering the university are proficient in the math and science they need, Schroeder said. Many have advanced farther, having completed first and second year university courses in ANSEP’s pre-university program.

Hooking middle schoolers

ANSEP begins with the Middle School Academy.

”Every summer, rising sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students attend this two week, residential, science and engineering experience,” Schroeder said. “So far we have had 224 students participate. Those who have successfully completed the two-week Academy during a previous summer and are making good progress toward finishing Algebra 1 prior to eighth grade graduation will return to the university campus for an intense five-day experiential career exploration exercise.

“Working with faculty from the School of Engineering the students will be organized into teams of three and be tasked with designing, building, and the wind tunnel testing of airplane wings. In summer 2014 we plan to have students do a different experiential career exercise in the biological sciences, and the summer after that something else. We will keep these young students excited and engaged each summer they are in middle school.”

Assembling computers has been a core part of the program at the high school level. “We have assembled over 1,200 computers with ANSEP high school students so far and most have successfully completed chemistry, physics, and trigonometry prior to graduation, Schroeder said.

“We are now in the process of shifting our resources from building computers with high school students to the Middle School Academy activities. This is because the earlier we start with students the better the result and the more cost effective we become. We will continue to assemble approximately 100 computers annually with Bethel Regional High School and Mt. Edgecumbe High School.”

High school Acceleration Academy

For high school students, the ANSEP Acceleration Academy is a residential five-week summer academy at UAA.

“All classes are taught by university math and science faculty,” Schroeder said. “Students enroll in college level classes including Intro to Engineering, Intro to Biology, Intro to Geology, Chemistry, Physics, College Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus 1, 2, and 3, and Differential Equations.

”Ninety two percent of all Acceleration Academy students advance at least one full (high school grade) level in math or science each summer. 75 percent complete six or more college credits. So far we have had 141 students participate. Students can begin immediately after graduation from eighth grade. We are planning on another 75 students during summer 2013

Beginning this summer, the high school Acceleration Academy students will be organized into teams of three and complete career exploration exercises similar to those planned for middle school students but longer.

“They will be more robust because the high school students are further along with their math and science.

“The five week duration of Acceleration Academy provides an opportunity for multiple career experiences. During summer 2013 students will design, build, and test airplane wings and complete an experiential environmental science data collection and analysis exercise,” Schroeder said.

Opportunities for expansion

“Over the course of the next five years we intend to expand opportunities that foster success. Our six-year objective is to build our Middle School Academy out to 12 districts.

“In 2020 the middle school component could reach a steady state where there will be in excess of 600 students graduating from eighth grade annually with a minimum of algebra 1 successfully completed.

“In that same year there will be more than 3,000 ANSEP students on track for science and engineering degrees. Two years later, in 2022, there will be more than 4,000,” Schroeder said.

“This analysis is based upon 70 percent of middle school academy and computer assembly students remaining engaged in Acceleration Academy,” Schroeder said. It also assumes a continued 70 percent ‘retention’ rate at the university level, which is currently being achieved.

Will this require additional funding? Schroeder doesn’t think so. It can be paid for with existing K-12 funding, he believes, first by working with policy makers so that money flows only to science and engineering programs that demonstrate successful academic outcomes. Secondly, ANSEP will work with districts to weave program components into the fabric of the K-12 system using existing funding.

“We need to be paying for success. Success means our students are socially and academically prepared for college, and confident and ready to accept the challenge,” Schroeder told the legislators.

For now, the system isn’t working.

“We are in the midst of an education crisis,” Schroeder said. “The system is failing. Nearly 40 percent of Native students do not finish high school on time. College students are not graduating in the numbers necessary to meet the demand in science and engineering. Organizations are concerned about finding the talent they need to stay competitive. K-12 students are eager and bright but are often denied the inspiration, guidance, and opportunity that leads to success.”

ANSEP now reaches only 3 percent of K-12 Native students.

“Ninety seven percent are still unable to participate,” Schroeder said. “We are convinced that there is enough money in the system to accomplish our goals for many, many more students. But the money in the system is not always spent in a manner that leads to success. We are paying for failure.”

Tim Bradner can be reached at [email protected].

02/28/2013 - 7:40am