Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program welcomes NASA astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris Jr. and more than 1,000 students, alumni, their families and strategic partners for 24th annual Celebration


ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Today the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program celebrated its 24th year by welcoming students, alumni, their families, strategic partners, faculty and staff to its annual Celebration event, which commemorates students’ successes and looks ahead to future achievements. This year’s theme was “Beyond the Stratosphere” and featured Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr., a NASA astronaut known around the world as the first African American to perform a spacewalk.

Having been on two shuttle missions with NASA and earning his medical doctorate in addition to three other bachelor and masters degrees, Dr. Harris’ message is that, with education and effort, anything is possible. This philosophy is shared by ANSEP, which has worked with Dr. Harris’ nonprofit National Math + Science Initiative since 2010 to promote and nurture an early interest in STEM with Alaska’s youth.

“The best part about being an astronaut is coming back to earth to share my story and help inspire the next generation of astronauts. All of the ideas of the future are in the minds of ANSEP students and others like you,” said Dr. Harris.

Alaska Natives and other minorities are statistically underrepresented in STEM career fields across Alaska and around the nation. ANSEP strives to systemically change hiring patterns of underrepresented populations by providing early exposure to higher education and building confidence through success in upper-level STEM activities. Like ANSEP, the National Math + Science Initiative’s mission is to advance STEM education to ensure all students, especially those farthest from opportunity, thrive and reach their highest potential.

Thanks to the support from strategic partners Huna Totem Corporation and Sealaska Corporation, ANSEP hosted its first Middle School Academy for students from Southeast Alaska. The 45 students from Southeast selected to attend were among the attendees at the Celebration. Throughout this two-week, all-expenses-paid component, the students participated in hands-on STEM education and team building activities at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, and today, Dr. Harris joined them for a question and answer session. Full-time Acceleration Academy and University Success students were also in attendance to hear Dr. Harris speak about how self-empowerment and self-determination helped him achieve success in his education and career.

Students from Southeast Alaska chosen to participate in this month’s Middle School Academy include:

  • Angoon: Steven Carlson
  • Douglas: Mary Canapary, Taliesen Paul and Mia Waid
  • Gustavus: Hannah Buchheit and Iris White
  • Juneau: Karen Adkinson, Tria Bowers, Charlize Brown, Kayley Burkhardt, Elijah Carle, Chris Degener, Peyton Edmunds, Lelehua Fujimoto Ver, Benjamin Goldstein, Karidree Hartman, Elijah Harvey, Dawn Hoyt, Elijah Keaton, Zariah Knight, Jaylynn Martin, Isis McQueen, Madalyn Mesdag, Alicia Michels, Tobin Montalbo, Hilary Nguyen, Joshua Pierson, Ike Puustinen, Leif Richards, Hayden Soboleff and Addison Wilson
  • Wrangell: Johnny Allen, Will Ashton, Paige Baggen, Patton Bania, Ander Edens, Timothy Garcia, Daniel Harrison, Kiara Harrison, Jaycen Hay, Zagara Ritchie, Clara Waddington, Rhiannon Wenzel and Kayla Young

There will also be 50 students from Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District who will be getting a sneak peek into the program and the ANSEP community by attending Celebration ahead of their Middle School Academy, scheduled for March.

“Despite their financial, geographical or educational hurdles, ANSEP equips students with the tools they need to break these barriers, overcome stereotypes and pursue STEM careers,” said Dr. Herb Schroeder, ANSEP founder and vice provost. “Industry leaders like Dr. Harris inspire our students to focus on their strengths, find solidarity and a support system with their peers and develop the motivation to succeed.”

Many ANSEP students come from communities where higher education isn’t the norm and an urban lifestyle is intimidating. By creating a community that celebrates cultural heritage and thrives on strong relationships and teamwork, ANSEP opens the door to success for students across Alaska. With more than 2,500 students in its pipeline and more than 800 higher education degrees already complete, ANSEP is celebrating its ability to provide life-changing access to education that positively impact students and their communities.