Growing up in Chevak, Logan Matchian watched his grandfather operate heavy machinery. As a small boy, Logan knew it was something he wanted to do when he got older. 

"I watched him growing up," Matchian said. "I always thought it was cool, so here I am at the EXCEL session for heavy equipment, and it's pretty awesome." 

Alaska EXCEL is a nonprofit with a mission of giving rural Alaskan students employability skills and career exploration opportunities.

In addition to heavy equipment training, Alaska EXCEL offers hands-on instruction sessions for specific areas of employment such as welding, carpentry, professional piloting, driving, health care and culinary arts. 

Kids can attend sessions as early as seventh grade until the summer they graduate from high school.

"I heard about it last year," Matchian said. "So I was interested and I signed up for it. I had to fill out a couple paragraphs on why I wanted to come here and how I would show leadership.” He also needed a recommendation from a teacher and his principal.

Matchian is a senior at Chevak School and he's one of 16 students ages 16 to 18 who are a part of a two-week session in Palmer on heavy equipment operation instructed by Northern Industrial Training Inc.

"Because of their age they don't really know what they want to do for a career yet," said NIT construction equipment instructor Todd Kitter. "So, we're giving them an opportunity to see if heavy equipment is a career that they would be interested in."

Alaska EXCEL serves students in the Iditarod Area, Kashunamiut, Kuspuk, Lower Kuskokwim, North Slope Borough, Yukon Koyukuk and Yupiit School Districts.

Executive director Carol Wilson says she knows kids can be transient, moving from village to village. But they’re welcome to come to sessions at any time. “Sometimes we'll have seniors that it might be the first time that we've ever seen them. Or we might have a senior that they’ve gone through everything with us. We meet them at the door, and we serve wherever they’re at and we'll help them get to where they want to be."

Once accepted, students are grouped into tiers according to grade levels to help with the challenges of being away from home. Alaska EXCEL gets financial support from sponsors and grants that lets the students travel and stay at the sessions free of charge. 

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