ANSEP shows off model to national conference

  • University of Alabama at Huntsville biology student Desalyn Johnson, sixth-grader Joy Shein of Turnagain Elementary and University of Alabama Outreach Coordinator Rosemary Robinson were elated when they finished building a computer as part of the Dissemination Conference hosted by the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Jan. 17. (Photo/Naomi Klouda/AJOC)
  • Stephen Holmstock, a sixth-grader at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in Anchorage helps guide Dr. Christopher Botang, director of STEM research at Chicago State University in building a computer Jan. 17 at the UAA Consortium Library. (Photo/Naomi Klouda/AJOC)

Middle school students from Anchorage learned how to build a computer from the motherboard up at a University of Alaska Dissemination Conference.

On the conference’s second day, the sixth- to eighth-graders teamed up with faculty and officials of universities from around the country to show them how it’s done.

It was a two-step process: learn, then teach.

“I’ve never built a computer before,” said University of Alabama in Huntsville outreach coordinator Rosemary Robinson, elated as she and her team plugged in the computer tower to a screen and keyboard. “It works!”

Joy Shein, a sixth grader from Turnagain Elementary, led the effort, teaching the two adults from Alabama the myriad wire connections that must be properly placed before the lights fire up. Robinson brought one of her biology majors, Desalyn Johnson, with her on the weeklong trip to Alaska.

The occasion was called the “Dissemination Conference” hosted by the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It brought 54 Anchorage School District students together with 90 conference attendees from around the country.

A National Science Foundation grant paid for their trips, but each of the middle schoolers, college students and faculty were selected in a competitive application process.

The event was to share formulas for success from the UAA program with regional education groups from across the nation, said Herb Schroeder, the founder and vice provost of ANSEP.

“Anybody anywhere can do what we do with ANSEP,” Schroeder said. “It’s all about inspiring children when they are young so that they have a vision of what their lives can be like in the future. I’m an engineer and I can remember exactly when I realized that is what I wanted to be. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say they remember the exact moment when they realized ‘I want to be a biologist’ or an engineer or a teacher. It’s that spark that ignites a vision for their future.”

The third floor of the UAA Consortium Library came alive with 100 newly built computers at the end of the process. Robinson and her team of two students — the sixth grader and the college student — wore the same happy expressions of accomplishment. This was exactly what Schroeder had hoped to see throughout the room.

“Everything we do is hands on and experiential. As I walked around the room, I saw they all had the same emotions when they are done that the kids have when they are done: So proud, this is so cool and so fun,” Schroeder said. “They say exactly the same thing.”

The faculty came from Auburn University, Chicago State University, Clemson University, the University of Alabama, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, University of Hawaii, University of Montana, University of Texas at El Paso and a team from the North Dakota Secretary of Education.

The point of the conference was to “disseminate” a path to disadvantaged students from Indian Country, the Appalachians, inner cities and Pacific Islanders.

The idea is to help better teach STEM topics in K-12 so that students come to college prepared for their studies.

“Alaska isn’t the only one that struggles with students arriving poorly prepared for their studies,” Schroeder said. “Everyone of them struggles with this as well.”

ANSEP was the recipient of a $3 million National Science Foundation grant that allowed them to hold the conference. Since its inception in 1995, UAA has awarded 600 baccalaureate degrees to 600 Native scientists and engineers. They’ve also guided more than 2,500 students from sixth grade through the PhD pipeline to help transform education across the state.

Schroeder said the program is successful in its mission to assist Alaska students in completing science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree programs.

“(This) effects change in the representations of minorities in the workforce,” he said. “We are proud to be a model for others around the country. At the end of the conference we want every participant to understand the issues related to replication of ANSEP in their own community and move from planning to implementation of a similar program.”

One participant, Marc Bluestone, is the superintendent of K-12 schools at New Town, N.D., which encompasses the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The high school has a 49 percent graduation rate. It is Bluestone’s home reservation as well.

“We have a lot of apathy about not just education. I want to go back and strengthen us where we are at with STEM activities,” said Bluestone, who had just finished building a computer with the help of Marcella Williams from Spring Hill Elementary School in Anchorage.

Because he was in Anchorage observing the ANSEP model with others from the North Dakota education commissioner’s team and the university system, he felt implementing a new plan will have built-in support and first-hand knowledge from the conference.

A key strength is incorporating elementary and middle age students in STEM emersion, he said, to capture them at a young age: “This is a message we hear over and again.”

Another conference attendee, Jeff Dase, is chief of schools at Network 12 in Chicago. He has 13,400 students in 30 elementary schools and five high schools. They offer a summer STEM program that is along the lines of ANSEP, he said.

“I’m interested in closing the gap for STEM understanding between elementary and high school where we see low performance on SATs,” Dase said. “This event really gabbed us,” he said, referring to building a computer with a middle school student. His partner was sixth-grader Stephen Holmstock from the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School.

“It was so cool that Stephen showed us how to build the computer. Having a kid show you something is a powerful way to instill learning in them,” Dase said.

A team of two, one a very short six-grader from King Cove and the other an engineering director from Clemson University, were some of the first to finish building their computer.

Dr. Thomas Peters and Russell Dushkin had their computer finished within 10 minutes after the lunch break.

“I don’t think Russell looked at his notes more than two times,” Peters said. “ANSEP has a nicely articulated model, it’s easy to sell. We have pieces of it, but not a system at Clemson (University.) We have multiple universities all doing the same things. Getting collaboration between them is more challenging.”

But the computer build was giving Peters ideas, he said.

To Chicago’s Dase, it was interesting to him that each student will go home with the computer they built the first day as part of their own learning.

“They will show that computer to others in their classrooms, and teach other students how they did it,” Dase said.

Schroeder didn’t schedule a lot of sitting and listening into the conference.

“Most of their interactions were with students. We had very little with adults primarily as facilitators,” he said. “Most of their interactions were with students in middle school, high school and university. And when they leave, we’re hoping they take our blueprint with them to inspire their own students for a vision of their futures.”

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

01/25/2018 - 12:08pm