(Photo courtesy of JR Ancheta, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
As an honor graduate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF); president of the university’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and Society of Petroleum Engineering (SPE); and future ConocoPhillips Alaska engineer, it’s hard to believe Stefan Weingarth was raised in a small town where college degrees are few and far between.
Like many young students from rural Alaska, a degree wasn’t always something that seemed attainable. Stefan struggled to find a job that worked with his high school class schedule, and he earned money where he could and saved as much as possible. However, with his freshman year in college wearing a price tag of more than $20,000, he still didn’t think a degree was within reach. Stefan began applying for a number of scholarships; including those that seemed out of his scope.
His uncertainty was eased, though, when he earned enough scholarship money to pay for his degree – in full! Today, Stefan is 22 years old and holds a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering and an associate’s degree in process technology. On July 6, Stefan will begin his career as an engineer at ConocoPhillips Alaska, a position he earned through numerous summer internships during his college years.
What Stefan believes set him apart from the other scholarship applicants was not only that he wanted to be an engineer but also that he wanted to work in Alaska and give back to the community where he grew up. That is, after all, the reason he has the dreams he does today.
“My family had a fish camp on the Yukon River growing up. For two weeks every summer we would go fishing, and my dad would tell me about the anatomy of different species of fish. It always interested me,” said Stefan. “On top of that, my grandpa worked at NASA and always told me to ‘reach for the stars.’ When I got to high school, math and science just made sense. I want to do some work internationally while I’m young, but ultimately I want to come back home, start my own business and give back to the community that helped build me.”
Stefan is Yup’ik from St. Mary’s, a city of only 500 residents, located in western Alaska. He went from there to Mt. Edgecumbe High School, where he participated in his first computer build and learned all that the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) had to offer students like him.
“It was really cool building my computer from just pieces. And, the ANSEP team was so pumped about getting students involved with STEM. When I got to UAF, ANSEP was one of my first stops, and I was involved in the University Success component from then until I graduated. My junior and senior year, I helped other ANSEP students with math and science as a recitation leader. It really helped me develop my communication skills and learn how to put the problems in my head on paper so someone else could understand.”
Throughout his college career, Stefan learned the value of opportunity and encourages all students to seek out and take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
“My freshman year, one of the graduating seniors from the engineering program presented on his summer internship. I remember him saying that it wasn’t completely geared on what he was working toward, but he was still able to learn important lessons from it. It was very influential and inspiring to see someone that came from a similar background, went to college, did well and had a full-time job offer waiting for him after college.”
Through his experiences as a recitation leader at ANSEP and many other noteworthy leadership positions, Stefan has developed a true passion for leading others and inspiring them to go after their dreams, something he hopes to continue in the future.
“I would tell students like me to understand that sacrifices will have to be made to get where you want to be. You have to realize the goal behind what you’re doing. You’re going to college for a degree, which ultimately leads to a career. Start with the end in mind, and remember it until you’re where you want to be.”