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UAF Program Helps Science-oriented Youths ‘Broaden Expertise’ with Hands-on Learning

Four Fairbanks-area high-schoolers got a chance to get down and dirty last month as part of a class that helps them learn how archeologists uncover the past. The students spent a week excavating artifacts at a dig near Quartz Lake as part of a University of Alaska Fairbanks program that gives young people hands-on experience with  science-,  technology-, engineering- and math-related activities.

Hutchison High School ninth-grader Elinor Panamaroff takes a break from excavating at an archeological site just off the northern shore of Quartz Lake to explain why she’s spending two weeks of her summer vacation digging in the dirt looking for bits of bone and other artifacts.

“My mom was an archeologist,” she said, “and so I kind of wanted to follow in her footsteps a little bit. And so far, it’s been pretty fun.”

Debranna Bealer is an Eielson High School freshman who worked with Panamaroff and a couple of other high-schoolers at the dig. Bealer says she signed up for the Alaska Summer Research Academy, or ASRA, archeology instructional module because she wants a well-rounded education.

“I’m not really that into archeology. I want to be a lawyer,” she said “But, like, a lot of other things could be cool to look at, to broaden your expertise on like everything. So you know just a little bit about everything.”

Trinity Frontz is a junior at West Valley High School who wants to be a veterinarian. And she says she took the two-week archeology course that includes a week of field work to learn about other science-related occupations.

“I’m typically usually more interested in animal-like things,” she said. “But at this young age, where you’re starting to decide (about) college and kind of think about your future career, I wanted to get more experience with other careers.”

Bryan Johnson is another West Valley student who’s been involved with ASRA for a couple of years. He actually wants to be an archeologist – and he’s already landed a job at the university’s Museum of the North that pays him to work in the field he loves.

“I’m just working there over the summer sorting and organizing artifacts in the range, where we keep all our artifacts and everything, making sure it’s all squared-away and everything’s in the database online,” he said.

That’s the goal of ASRA’s hands-on science-, technology-, engineering- and math-related instruction, says program director Christa Mulder, a professor of plant ecology at UAF.

“The group that went to Quartz Lake, for example, they got to spend eight days out at the lake learning what a dig is really like, the whole process that archeologists go through, what they actually do,” she said.

Mulder says the program offers courses that help middle-schoolers and high-schoolers start thinking about possible careers in science and technology.

“It’s a really great way to figure out whether you are really, genuinely are interested in an area of science, or not.”

Mulder says students interested in next summer’s offerings should go to the ASRA page on the UAF website and read up on the program. She says registration will begin Feb. 1.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.