Middle School Academy Builds Excitement for STEM Careers and College

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Going to camp is an exciting adventure—swimming, playing games, making crafts and keepsakes to bring home—and is something many kids look forward to as the school year ends. But what if you had the chance to spend two weeks having fun at camp while working on science and engineering projects? For two weeks this May, students from Bristol Bay did just that, trading bunk beds and tire swings for dorm rooms and computer parts to attend the Bristol Bay ANSEP Middle School Academy.

Offered in collaboration with the BBNC Education Foundation (BBNCEF) and the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), this was the first run of the Academy just for students from Bristol Bay. Forty-six middle-schoolers in grades six through eight, from four regional school districts, traveled to the University of Alaska Anchorage
to attend. They stayed in university residence halls, and participated in classes that focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)—all areas of study with high
future employment potential in Bristol Bay and beyond. Attendance was free for participating students.

The program was funded through donations from both corporate and philanthropic partners, including Rasmuson Foundation, The Alaska Community Foundation, BBNCEF, and BBNC and its subsidiary companies. BBNC and BBNCEF’s support demonstrates our commitment to supporting educational initiatives and increasing employment opportunities in our region.

While at this STEM “camp,” students took part in hands-on, collaborative learning activities that sparked their interest and grew their skills. Grouped into project teams with inspiring names such as “Team Endurance” and “Team Determination,” they completed science and engineering activities, including building a personal computer from scratch. They also learned about the practical and innovative applications of STEM from experts and instructors. Participants were shown the direct correlation to the importance of completing Algebra 1 before the eighth grade, and completing required coursework, such as math, by their freshman year of college, both of which are goals of the program.
The Academy provided another benefit to the students: an immersive preview of the college experience. According to Aleesha Towns-Bain, Executive Director of BBNCEF, this will help encourage them to pursue higher education. “For many of these students, it was their first exposure to a college or university setting. It’s positive, because it’s going to make them better informed as they decide what they want to do as they get older.”

At the Academy’s closing ceremony, students delivered presentations to their peers and parents. “The level of knowledge and confidence they showed was just amazing,” says Towns-Bain.The success of the region’s first Middle School Academy has already begun to generate interest in future sessions. When asked about the future of the program, Towns-Bain was excited to see more. “One of the strengths of the ANSEP program is that it exposes students to a wide range of opportunities and careers where science, technology, engineering, math all matter,” she explained. “There’s a wide variety of careers here in Bristol Bay and within the BBNC companies, but also just in life, that have STEM as part of what you need to succeed.”