Most folks can log on and use a computer, but how many can build one?

On Wednesday, 37 middle school students from the North Slope Borough and Hoonah City School Districts were putting their skills to the test. 

The kids were on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus as part of a two-week curriculum with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) called Middle School Academy. It's been running for 24 years and the goal is simple. 

"The sooner you can engage students in science, engineering, in place-based education experiences like here at the university, the better chance they're going to be motivated, stay motivated and excited to complete the courses they need to be college-ready," said ANSEP chief operating officer Michael Bourdukofsky. 

It's one thing to take math and science; it's another to apply them in real life.

"What we're trying to do is provide that opportunity here at the University of Alaska Anchorage to do more hands-on experiences so that they see how those skill sets in math and science translate to opportunities at the university," he said. 

Seventh-grader Lorraine Toledo attends Eben Hopson Middle School in Utqiagvik. She's already focused on a career utilizing what she’s learned, though it's her first time building a computer.

"I'm thinking of being an architect when I grow up," she said, taking a break from the assembly process.

Lorraine said she thinks the ANSEP program is a good first step for her future career.

"That will probably give me a path to being an architect," she said. When I'm applying [to college], I could probably put that in my application and it will give me an advantage to get into college." 

The computers the kids build would be used while at the academy. After the two-weeks are over, they can take them home. Leaders at the academy encourage the students to use the computers they built and try to complete algebra I by the end of eighth grade. 

In the past few years, there's been a heavy emphasis on recruiting more girls into science, technology and math courses and, ultimately, into industries requiring those skills. That’s why ANSEP tries to have an equal number of boys and girls at the academy.

For Lorraine, whose dad builds computers, gender has nothing to do with success. 

"Just because you're a girl, you can still try," she says. 

And in Lorraine’s case, succeed.

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