Sixteen rural Alaska high school students will head into their senior year this fall with four years of geological fieldwork under their belts thanks to participation in the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ GeoFORCE Alaska program. Another six students in the program will begin their college careers with the same solid foundation.
The students graduated from the four-year program in late July. This was the second class to graduate from the GeoFORCE Alaska program.
GeoFORCE Alaska seeks to increase the number and diversity of rural and minority Alaskans pursuing careers in science and technical fields, especially geology. During each of the four summers following eighth grade, GeoFORCE students join 10-day field expeditions throughout the United States, including Alaska. The expeditions introduce students to new environments and provide college-level instruction in geology.
“We get them interested in the sciences by taking them on these field experiences,” said GeoFORCE coordinator Brian Reggiani. “We’re inspiring them and providing support as they move from high school on into success — however they define that for themselves.”
Student hometowns include Point Lay, Utqiaġvik, Anaktuvuk Pass, Nuiqsut, Noatak, Kivalina and Kotzebue. The free program is entirely funded through donations. Many sponsors represent Alaska industries that rely on the state’s natural resources. A principal goal of the program is to diversify Alaska’s technical workforce.
“We want to make sure rural students are well represented in that workforce because they bring a really important perspective,” said Sarah Fowell, a UAF geology professor and GeoFORCE Alaska’s director. “There’s a balance that Alaska faces all the time, which is managing cultural resources and our natural resources, and the students from these rural villages are uniquely placed to inform that balance.”
The students’ final geologic expedition began in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and ended at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. During the past four years, the students visited more than 45 sites throughout Alaska and the Lower 48.
UAF’s College of Natural Science and Mathematics hosts the program, which is modeled after GeoFORCE Texas. The program helps students build life skills and gain confidence as they encounter unfamiliar environments.
“At GeoFORCE, we are particularly interested in making sure these students come back from year to year, so they build an active group of friends that they can communicate with, network with, and keep each other accountable. We are really building friendships that last a lifetime,” said Reggiani.
To student Amyaa Edwards-Davis, the camaraderie built up over the past four years has been especially enjoyable. The combination of travel and science has contributed to her own personal development, she added.
“It makes you expand your horizons,” she said. “It pushes you out of your comfort zones and makes you a better person.”