Michele Yatchmeneff

    Wednesday, April 22, 2015

    Aleutian Islands, Alaska

    Michele Yatchmeneff

    Growing up in a traditional subsistence lifestyle in rural villages along Alaska’s Aleutian chain, Michele Yatchmeneff’s future seemed as if it was pre-determined from the moment she was born. Michele is a Unangax (Aleut) or Native American woman. In Alaska, that means that she is among a group with the highest unemployment rate and 40 percent do not graduate from high school in four years.

    Despite the odds, Michelle’s determination, along with support from programs like ANSEP, allowed her to excel far beyond that statistic. She now holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), and she is currently pursuing her doctorate in engineering at Purdue University. As if that weren’t enough, Michele has been able to maintain a traditional Unangax lifestyle, attending school in Anchorage and returning to her village during the summers to harvest food with her family.

    Michele discovered her love of engineering in high school while attending an engineering camp at the University of Denver, and she began to immerse herself in several camps and internships. While tackling her undergraduate degree at UAA, Michele participated in ANSEP University Success. Designed to bring together a community of students, staff and industry partners, ANSEP’s University Success component inspired Michele to keep working toward her degree, no matter what obstacles she might face.

    “My most memorable experiences at University Success occurred while studying with other ANSEP students during recitation,” says Michele. “I truly believe that studying with like-minded peers and receiving help from ANSEP teachers is the reason I hold the degrees I do today. They inspired me to keep moving forward. The classes were difficult, but doing it together made it bearable.”

    Throughout Michele’s school and work experiences, she felt that there was an ongoing stereotype that came along with her Alaska Native background. She was often denied the respect she felt she had earned. As a result, she began working at ANSEP, motivating other Alaska Native students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees and to join her in combatting those stereotypes.

    “ANSEP students inspire me every day because they are knocking down barriers they don’t even realize exist. My favorite experience as the ANSEP Deputy Director was seeing Frazer Tee, one of my first Acceleration Academy students, graduate with his bachelor’s degree in engineering. Frazer is now a practicing engineer at Intel, and I couldn’t be more proud!”

    Michele will break a barrier herself this fall as she becomes the first female Alaska Native engineering faculty member at UAA once she graduates with her doctorate. She will, of course, also continue her work with ANSEP students. Her advice for Alaska students interested in STEM careers is to participate in summer components and internships at ANSEP and make school a priority. Michele truly believes that everyone can turn a bad situation into a positive one – it all depends on how you look at the obstacle standing in front of you.