Navigating College in Alaska

Aug 26, 2016 | Blog, Inside the College Fund, Student Success


Our Native Pathways team embarked on a trip to Alaska to visit Ilisagvik College and Barrow High School. I thought my five hour plane trip to college every semester was a major journey.  Barrow is situated on the northernmost part of the United States, in other words, the “top of the world.”  Despite the cramped seating for 15 hours and broken wheels on our luggage, we arrived in Barrow safe and sound, where we were greeted by snow and arctic beaches—a welcome site after a scorching summer.

We were very excited to bring Native Pathways to the North Slope of Alaska to assist tribal college students wanting to transfer to four-year higher education institutions, while also sharing resources with the high school community on how to prepare for college.  Our goal was to recruit our first participants into the Native Pathways program and collaborate with educators to create a college-going environment.

What is important about the Barrow community is that traditional culture, language and values are an important part of education at all levels. Iñupiat (the name of this Arctic Inuit people) values are integrated into the college’s curriculum, recruiting brochures and campus posters in an effort to emphasize local values, instill community and strengthen academic success.  Educators understand the key to fostering success is found in culture and community, so our job was to discover what Native Pathways could offer.

At the college and high school, mentoring students is important. This can help students understand their purpose and personal power to continue their education. Engaging in conversations and asking questions of students such as, “How do you typically study? What obstacles might you face this semester? What does success look like to you? How can I support you this year?” are all an important part of a student’s self-reflection and may lend an understanding of why college is important, how education can benefit their life goals/interests, and what steps to take to be successful. The students are welcome to ask coaches whatever question they have and the coach’s role is to listen.

There are also practical tools and support that can help students successfully navigate the college process. Ilisagvik College already emphasizes distance education to neighboring villages as part of their program, and counseling services for the high school are coordinated amongst all villages in the district.  The Native Pathways program is developing resources and is eager to share valued information through the Native Pathways webpage and its social media platforms. Our team is developing online communication tools to help program participants set important reminders and create original content to help Native students complete the steps to get into college.

Quyanaqpak (with many thanks) to our partners in Barrow. We received a warm welcome from the community and we even had the chance to taste muktuk  (the skin and blubber of a whale) and salmon berries. We were fortunate to meet students who demonstrated resiliency and dedication to their education, despite the cold weather. We learned so much during our visit and we look forward to building a meaningful partnership.

written by Davida Delmar

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