Austin Bergerson, a 15-year-old American Native Cherokee, and Kyah Mingo, a 16-year-old Inupiaq, first became involved with the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program in 2015 during summer Middle School Academy components. Austin and Kyah were eager to get more involved with the program and enrolled in its innovative, full-time Acceleration Academy (Mat-Su) component.
The Anchorage residents first met on the ANSEP bus and would commute 1.5-hours each way to Palmer to attend the full-time high school. Eventually, the three-hour round trip journey for 15 dedicated students resulted in the formation of lifelong friendships.
Austin, currently a sophomore, and Kyah, currently a junior, began dating last year and both transferred to Acceleration Academy (UAA) for its inaugural 2018-2019 school year. We caught up with them to learn more about their ANSEP experiences.
ANSEP: You’ve both been involved with ANSEP since middle school. What is your favorite part about the program?
Kyah: Once you come to ANSEP, it feels like family. You’re instantly part of the ANSEP community. The teachers work for ANSEP full-time but are also professors at the University of Alaska Anchorage and still find time to work with us and get to know us personally.
Austin: We often think of the ANSEP community as the students, mentors and professors, but it runs deeper than many people realize. While volunteering at an ANSEP scholarship banquet, I met many of the alumni and donors who help make the program possible. It’s amazing to realize how many other people are invested in our success.
ANSEP: What makes the full-time Acceleration Academy high school experience different from other high schools?
Kyah: Aside from access to college-level courses, we get to hands-on experience learning about STEM careers and other practical skills like resume building and public speaking that will help us earn scholarships, apply for college and be successful later in life.
Austin: At Acceleration Academy, we work in groups on exciting projects like building hydro pumps but also get experience doing college-level essays and presentations. It has built confidence and helped me learn how to succeed as an individual and as a member of a team.
ANSEP: One of the biggest perks of Acceleration Academy is the ability to save money by earning college credits before high school graduation. Do you feel ANSEP has helped you prepare for college academically and financially?
Kyah: ANSEP has definitely made me feel more prepared because I know what to expect when walking into a college classroom. When I start college, I will have almost two-years worth of credits already complete. Plus, spending time on the UAA campus, surrounded by college students makes me feel more comfortable, like I already belong there. I know that feeling would carry over to any university I choose to attend.
Austin: Although I’m only in my second year of Acceleration Academy, I’ve already earned a year’s worth of college credits. I feel more confident knowing that if I can already complete college-level courses then I’ll definitely be successful in college and graduate school.
ANSEP: What’s it like working alongside your high school peers and University Success students at Acceleration Academy (UAA)?
Kyah: It is amazing that, just within the ANSEP building, I can easily connect with Middle School Academy students, fellow Acceleration Academy students or even University Success students. The ANSEP community is really important to me and everyone else in the building. There is something different you can learn from every person, and they’re always willing to help you.
Austin: There’s always someone to turn to, and it’s amazing how everyone is so friendly and willing to drop whatever they are doing to help. Despite the challenging material at ANSEP, having that support makes school less stressful and everyone more successful.
Kyah: The ANSEP community opens endless doors to opportunities but has the benefit of being small enough that you encounter the same people over and over, which builds incredibly tight bonds and relationships. Everyone is supportive and understands what you’re going through.
Austin: I’ve built incredible relationships with peers, students of other ages ranging from middle school to college, professors and mentors. We all support each other but their variation in life experiences provides me with very unique perspectives.
ANSEP: Kyah, you’re an upperclassman with enough credits to graduate early. What are your plans for the future?
Kyah: I’m hoping to attend ANSEP Summer Bridge so I can earn more college credit and gain valuable career experience working a paid internship before attending the University of Alaska Southeast. I want to join University Success so I can stay involved with ANSEP and be surrounded by the support of the ANSEP community.
ANSEP: Do you know what you want to study in college?
Kyah: I want to focus on environmental ocean sciences or marine biology because when I was younger I would visit Prince William Sound with my father. We spent hours looking at the tide pools and creatures living there. Ever since, I’ve been interested in the ocean and wanted to work in a marine-focused STEM field. With the help of ANSEP, I’ve realized the steps I need to take and am already well on my way to making that dream a reality.
ANSEP: What’s the largest obstacle ANSEP has helped you overcome?
Kyah: ANSEP helped me learn to advocate for myself by teaching me how and when to ask for help. The ANSEP community made me feel comfortable knowing there was always someone to support me but also gave me the confidence to realize how much I could do for myself.
ANSEP: Austin, what are your plans for the future?
Austin: After high school I plan to stay involved with ANSEP through the University Success program. I’m already comfortable in the ANSEP building on the UAA campus and plan to earn my bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage but am interested in attending graduate school elsewhere.
ANSEP: What is your dream career?
Austin: When I was younger, we would visit the planetarium at the University of Alaska Anchorage to learn about the stars and galaxies. That sparked an interest in becoming an astronaut or astronomer. From attending STEM Career Exploration to speaking with my professors, ANSEP has exposed me to many different career paths. Currently, I’m considering medical sciences but still have time to decide.
ANSEP: Is there anything unexpected you’ve experienced or learned through ANSEP?
Austin: I expected ANSEP to be intimidating; but, instead of being cliquey like other high schools, everyone is always excited to make new friends. The people are incredibly friendly and supportive. We’re all different, but we have more in common than we realize and are all working towards the same goal.
Thanks to support from the University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage School District, Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and other strategic partners, ANSEP students like Austin and Kyah in Anchorage and Wasilla are able to jumpstart their STEM careers at Acceleration Academy (UAA) and Acceleration Academy (Mat-Su). Current and incoming high school students can learn more about the innovative component and apply today at ANSEP.net.