Building STEM Identity in Rural Alaska

Revived two years ago as an afterschool club, the Cordova Tech Club—and now First Tech Challenge (FTC) Robotics and Space Quest—involve one out of every five school-age children in Cordova, Alaska. This science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) based afterschool program is building more than just robots and science experiments—it is creating life-long learners and sparking STEM career interest among youth in this remote, rural community.  

 CHS FTC Team at Alaska State Championship 2018. L to R: Emory Vican, TJ Hatch, Ethan Beckett, Tristan Glasen, Jeremiah Beckett (Coach), Kevin Chung, Dylan Maloney, Micah Whitcomb, Jared Niles (Adult Advisor). 

CHS FTC Team at Alaska State Championship 2018. L to R: Emory Vican, TJ Hatch, Ethan Beckett, Tristan Glasen, Jeremiah Beckett (Coach), Kevin Chung, Dylan Maloney, Micah Whitcomb, Jared Niles (Adult Advisor). 

Having received a STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-grant last year, the Cordova School District used funding to boost Tech Club programming. Committed adult mentorship has also had a clear impact on student participation. Jeremiah Beckett is the adult advisor for Cordova Tech Club, and head coach for Cordova Jr./Sr. High School (CHS) FTC Robotics Team. He draws students in with his club’s ‘Tech Talks’, sharing innovations from drones to artificial intelligence. Coach Beckett believes clubs like FTC Robotics ensure students go beyond being technology users to becoming creators of technology.

 

Coach Beckett pins club success on student enthusiasm and involvement. He also recognizes FIRST in Alaska (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology in Alaska) as a standout ingredient in developing tech programming in Cordova. FIRST offers well-modeled challenges that engage youth and help develop leadership in STEM fields. Students participate in solving real-world problems with science and creativity, while developing STEM identity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills.

 

The CHS FTC Robotics Team - Wolverines has come a long way since last year in team unity, good sportsmanship, and mastery of new STEM skills. Going from their rookie season last year to becoming this year’s Alaska State Champion, the team has certainly triumphed. The Wolverines even earned a spot in the recent West Super-Regional Championship (Mar. 8-11, 2018 in Spokane, WA), placing 20th in their division, at this gathering of seventy-two (72) top robotics teams from across the Western US.

 

 CHS FTC Robotics Official Team Photo, Western US Championship 2018.  Courtesy  Cordova FIRST Public Group .

CHS FTC Robotics Official Team Photo, Western US Championship 2018. Courtesy Cordova FIRST Public Group.

Changes in Cordova’s fishing industry, such as more seasonal workers hailing from out of state, add to pressures on young adults to pursue work outside of their small town. Coach Beckett’s aim is for students to gain a strong foundation in STEM skills, vital for nearly all careers in today’s workforce. He sees Cordova Tech Clubs as a gateway to help youth stay in their community—empowering some to work virtually in the tech sector, or bring new tech innovations back to town. To strengthen the future of Alaska’s rural economy, there is clearly still a need for greater investment in STEM afterschool.  

 

The Alaska Afterschool Network congratulates the CHS Robotics Team - Wolverines on their recent State Championship award, and on earning the honor to compete at Regionals. Their perseverance to learn, improve, and collaborate serves as a model for others looking to kindle curiosities beyond the classroom. We wish the best to all participants of Cordova Tech Clubs too, as their dreams, inquiries and returns stand to have a great impact on the community.