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NASA astronaut joins ANSEP’s 24th annual Celebration

February 12, 2019

From the Final Frontier to the Last Frontier, NASA astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris Jr. joined ANSEP’s 24th annual Celebration to share his secrets to success with ANSEP students, their families, alumni, faculty, staff and strategic partners.

The day kicked off with 45 Middle School Academy students from Southeast joining ANSEP’s full-time Acceleration Academy and University Success students on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus for a Q&A session with Dr. Harris.

Although Dr. Harris is now known around the world as the first African American to perform a space walk, there was a time when many people doubted his ability to become an astronaut. Growing up during the civil rights movement, Harris experienced first-hand the challenges many minority students still face. Determined to not let circumstances stand in his way, Dr. Harris decided that education was the key to following his dreams.

“Being a doctor was always a dream of mine because I like helping people and I’ve always been fascinated by space exploration,” he said.

When he started researching NASA, he soon realized that all the astronauts had their doctorates along with many other degrees. Because living in space presents unique challenges, space missions require a diverse group of highly educated people. After earning a medical doctorate and three additional bachelor’s and master’s degrees, this realization inspired Dr. Harris to pursue a specialization in space medicine.

“I’ve traveled across the world and to the moon because of the opportunities created by my education. I’ve had careers as a medical doctor, scientist, astronaut, venture capitalist and philanthropist. Of all my career accomplishments, my favorite is getting to share my experiences and inspire students like you,” said Dr. Harris.

From sharing what it feels like at zero gravity to traveling in a space shuttle at 170,000 miles per hour to looking out the window as the space ship circles earth every 45 minutes, Dr. Harris answered student questions about what it’s like living in space. He discussed everyday challenges like eating and drinking packaged foods, wearing a space suit, hooking himself into a floating sleeping bag and even using the restroom. According to Dr. Harris, the single greatest invention that would open the door to intergalactic space travel is artificial gravity.

Despite his love for outer space, Dr. Harris’s message wasn’t for students to grow up and become astronauts. Instead, he encouraged students to find their passion, invest in education and never stop learning. Sharing Dr. Harris’s sentiments, ANSEP founder and Vice Provost Dr. Herb Schroeder opened the evening Celebration by asking the audience a simple question, “ANSEP, what do we do?” The crowd of more than 1,000 people enthusiastically responded, “We succeed.”

“At ANSEP, we succeed by working together and honoring our cultures,” said Schroeder. The seemingly simple mantra is an empowering message that Schroeder uses to inspire students of all ages. By engaging with students as early as the middle school level, ANSEP sets their sights on higher education and provides academic and social support to help students achieve their dreams. Acceleration Academy Regional Director and ANSEP alum Mike Ulroan broke the mantra down into three facets: determination, effort and approach.

It takes all three to succeed, and during the daytime event Ulroan honored students exemplifying each skill. The recipients were each presented with a satirical pair of “nerd glasses” that they wore with pride. University Success students who successfully completed Organic Chemistry and Ordinary Differential Equations also received award certificates and an “ANSEP ovation.”

In addition to celebrating high-performing students, ANSEP recognized its strategic partners that make the program possible during the Celebration. Speaking first in their native languages and then translating their messages to English, ANSEP students presented its supporters with symbolic gifts including wooden kayaks built by Middle School Academy students and baleen awards. Thanks to their generous support, ANSEP received $5.8 million in 2018.

“We’ve reached new limits in the past and Alaska has the potential to lead cutting edge technology and innovation in the future, thanks to the students in the room, ANSEP and its strategic partners,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan.

The ANSEP community thanked Sullivan and the other federal supporters present with an “ANSEP ovation” followed by cultural performances by Alaska Native dancers. Using coastal bird sounds and movements symbolic of the sea, the performances paid tribute to life in Alaska and on the Aleutian Islands, and represented spirituality and celebration.

From honoring the traditions of our past to driving the innovations of the future, ANSEP is creating opportunities for students from across Alaska. Whether students dream of becoming astronauts, scientists, engineers, doctors or any other professional, ANSEP is placing students on the path to success and that is a reason to celebrate.