Even on spring break, some University of Alaska Anchorage students are hard at work, taking on new heights and breaking more than one barrier.

A group of six women are building a high-powered rocket for a national NASA competition many months in the making.

"Its a fairly long evolution and NASA's idea is not simply just to have them design and fly a rocket, but to introduce them to NASA's way of life," said David Erickson with the Alaska Northstars Rocket Club.

Erickson is their mentor for the competition. He says the goal is to have their rockets hit Mach 1 — the speed of sound — not any more or less.

The competition is heated. There are schools competing all across the country from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech and many more, but Erickson says these six women are sharp, dedicated and ready. 

"The percentage of engineers that are women is not great for whatever reason," said Erickson. "I believe it’s maybe 15 percent, somewhere in there, and when you think about what percentage of those women engineers are Alaska Native women, it's probably a pretty small number."

Erickson says it's a privilege to mentor this team. The women are proud and excited to show off their work.

"We build it from scratch then we see this rocket that we built on our own and it's going to be fun to see it get launched," said team leader Helen Segura.

The group is sponsored by ANSEP, the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program, which strives to systemically change hiring patterns of underrepresented populations by providing early exposure to higher education and building confidence through success in upper-level STEM activities.

Each team member has a different reason they wanted to go into engineering, but all share a love to learn more. Some of the Alaska Native engineers hope to give back and serve as role models.

"Someone from their village is going to college and trying to get a degree that will hopefully give back to their community," Temyka Ayuluk said.

They hope this project will inspire other girls and those from Alaska villages to reach for the stars.

"I think it's really cool to represent Alaska and be able to share what we are doing up here to hopefully inspire others and women and young girls to just go after their dreams no matter what," Rachelle Griffitts said.

The rocket competition will be in Minnesota this spring. The team will be testing rockets from 12–3 p.m. this Saturday at Big Lake. The public is welcome to come watch.

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