Science organizations help form strong communities on campus

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Alaska Native Science Engineering Program work closely together at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Students in one organization are likely to be in the other program as well, and the combination forms a strong community within the university with tight friendships and mutual support.

AISES is a national student organization with more than 160 college chapters, including 23 tribal colleges, and was formed to ''increase substantially the representation of American Indian and Alaska Natives in engineering, science and other related technology disciplines,'' according to its mission statement.

The chapter at UAF stands out for the number of regional and national awards received in recent years. This year, it was nominated for the Zanin Distinguished Chapter of the Year Award, which it has won a few times in the past. Supporting letters speak to its status.

Daniel Solie, Pacific Alliance UAF-ANSEP director, wrote: ''AISES is our strongest partner in greatly increasing the number of Native students successfully completing degrees in science and engineering here at UAF. Over the past four years the number ... has doubled.''

Similar praise was written by Susan Hills, outreach core director for the National Institutes of Health-

sponsored Alaska Idea Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence program: ''I have been impressed with the [UAF chapter's] energy, enthusiasm, dedication and, something often lacking in student organizations, follow-through.''

The group meets every other week and features speakers from a wide range of scientific professions. On alternate weeks, ANSEP meets so students are meeting weekly in one organization or another for lunch, learning, leadership and bonding.

ANSEP is an academic program at the university. Sasha Dixon, Inupiaq, is one of two people who work in that office. She commented, ''We have many different components, including community-building. We get together to share triumphs and problems and emphasize that first. The path to success is with help from the community that we build. Some classes like calculus, physics and chemistry can be difficult when they're just beginning their degrees, so we have supplemental instruction and some people lead study groups.

''We also have internships available for students with good academic performance. They're eligible for a paid summer internship that gives them industry experience to see what it would be like to work in the field they've chosen. After completing an internship, they're eligible for a scholarship the following term. Scholarships are $5,000 a year and not competitive. There are multiple funding agencies that provide money for scholarships.''

ANSEP is open to all students who grow up in rural villages. A majority of the students are Native, but it is not a requirement. Rebecca Church, Yup'ik, is one of many who belong to both groups.

''I have attended a majority of the meetings because it's such a great network of people. I was able to do an internship through ANSEP last summer. They connected me with a mentor and I was able to do research. I also just returned from a leadership conference for AISES in Albuquerque and did a presentation on that trip. Suggestions we made for improving our chapter are going to be implemented as a result.''

In addition to having professionals and researchers frequently speaking at AISES' biweekly meetings, current students may report on summer internships and encourage others to pursue internships for the coming summer. They often serve on panels for high school students visiting the campus, providing information and explaining resources available to help them achieve success in college.