Alaska STEM Advocate Helps Women, Minorities Succeed

The crux of the problem, Herb Schroeder says, is that women and minorities are pushed out of STEM education.

ANSEP programs provide a "continuous stream" of STEM education to Alaska Natives, giving them a foundation to pursue degrees in engineering and science.

ANSEP programs provide a "continuous stream" of STEM education to Alaska Natives, giving them a foundation to pursue degrees in engineering and science.

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"People keep saying we have to do something to get women and minorities interested in STEM careers," he says. "Well, quit telling them they can't do it, which is what we've done. And look at our results."

Between 1998 and 2013, 90 percent of the 250 students who have participated in ANSEP's Summer Bridge program-- aimed at high school graduates the summer before they begin college -- continued to pursue bachelor's degrees in engineering or science, Schroeder says.

Part of the key to making sure students pursue and succeed in these fields is getting them interested at a young age, as well as giving them opportunities to work with professionals in the field to show them what career paths are available, Bourdukofsky says. But in addition to academic preparation, Bourdukofsky says, students have to overcome social obstacles to be fully prepared to enter a university. "For our students who are coming from all over Alaska, especially smaller communities, that social jump is a big hurdle for them," Bourdukofsky says. "We want them to feel comfortable on campus, start to meet other people who have common interests and goals. And the challenges they face together really helps to build their confidence during that experience."

Schroeder says he's confident that the program will be able to expand even further, with more than 4,000 students in the pipeline by 2022. Currently, each of ANSEP's middle school academies -- for grades six through eight -- has 54 students.

He says even if half of those projected 4,000 students earn a science or engineering degree, it would be eight times more than all the engineering and science degrees awarded to Alaska Natives by the university in the last 18 years, between 1995 and 2013.

"They're awesome kids. They just haven't been given an opportunity," Schroeder says. "And now that we give them the opportunity, they're lighting the world on fire."



Corrected, 1/22/2014: An earlier version of this story mentioned the number of engineering and science degrees awarded by the University of Alaska at Anchorage from 1995 to 2013. The statistic refers to degrees awarded to Alaska Natives only.

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  • Allie Bidwell

    Allie Bidwell is an education reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at sbidwell@usnews.com.