Sterling was born and raised in Bethel, Alaska. Following in his older brother Stephan’s footsteps, Sterling had a passion for building and improving things since he was young. However, being from a small community, he didn’t understand the impact he could have on the state by pursuing that dream. It wasn’t until ANSEP came to his school during his junior year of high school that he realized a program existed to help students from rural Alaska earn a college degree.
Directly after the visit, Sterling applied to be part of ANSEP and was accepted into the program. First, he took a calculus class, then a physics class, and then he built a computer that was his to keep for schoolwork. Before he knew it, he was a high school graduate participating in ANSEP Summer Bridge before attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks. That summer opened his eyes to the opportunities available to him as an engineer in Alaska.
“My first ever internship was working at BP in 2005 through ANSEP Summer Bridge. Growing up in Bethel, I had no clue what the oil and gas industry was about, how big it was and what it meant for the state of Alaska. Working with engineers was a true eye opener for me. I definitely have that summer to thank for my career in the oil and gas industry,” Sterling said.
Just like many other students from rural Alaska, Sterling’s first year away from home proved much more difficult than he anticipated. Thankfully, he had the support of his ANSEP University Success peers to help him pull through.
“My freshman year at UAF was definitely my toughest year – I was leaving a very small community behind and going to, in my eyes, a very large community away from my family and friends,” Sterling said. “I skated through high school and did well. When I got to college, though, I learned very quickly how much time and effort my schoolwork needed as well as the dedication it was going to take. The support from ANSEP was a huge help. They became my family.”
During his summers off, Sterling went back to Bethel for internships to offset his yearning for home during the school year. Then, a second internship with BP fell into place the summer before his senior year, which led him directly into a full-time position with the company. Today, Sterling manages engineering projects for BP at the global level and facilitates pipeline replacements on Alaska’s North Slope to keep oil flowing properly in the pipe year round. For Sterling, the best part of his job is creating an effective product that benefits the state.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to have a hand in delivering something that will provide value to the company and the state of Alaska as a whole,” said Sterling. “My ultimate goal as an engineering career is to get involved with major projects that will increase revenue for Alaska.”
Yupik Eskimo, Sterling is a proud Alaskan who understands the importance of having a hand in the future of the state that his people have called home for more than 10,000 years. This, combined with strong cultural values, is what drove Sterling and his brother Stephan to develop a business resource group for BP North America specifically for Alaska Natives and Native Americans. In addition, Sterling co-manages Summer Bridge interns at BP during the summer, serving as a mentor and guide for young students looking to earn an engineering degree.
“Earning an education in general is important, but STEM degrees are becoming more and more crucial as the world continues to change at a rapid pace. And, for rural Alaskans, we need these degrees to fill the gap for our people and have a hand in the future of our state,” Sterling said. “The biggest driver of my success is being a proud Alaskan. I take pride and ownership in the state of Alaska, my company and my projects. When I do that, it motivates me to do the very best I can.”
Through ANSEP, Sterling had the inspiration, guidance and tools needed to overcome any obstacle that came his way on the journey to becoming an engineer. Today, he is not only making an impact on the state of Alaska, he’s helping to develop aspiring engineers who will have a hand in the future of it for many years to come.
Sterling’s advice to students pursuing STEM degrees is the same advice he gives to all students:
“Choose something that you’re truly interested in. Not everyone is going to be a scientist or engineer, and not everyone is interested in oil and gas. Choose something that you’re truly passionate about and take ownership of the things that are important to you. The successes will then follow.”