High school students in rural Alaska face multiple roadblocks on the path to college and to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

Many rural students come from low income backgrounds and have never had family members attend college. Many live in impoverished communities inaccessible by road and many are Alaska Natives, an underrepresented minority. Many also attend underachieving schools, making it difficult to interest them in STEM fields or college in general.

And yet these students live in the midst of tremendous opportunity, in the form of the limitless wilderness and abundant resources surrounding them.

Over the course of the three-year project, 60 low-income, prospective first-generation college students from five rural high schools will take special elective classes during the Upward Bound summer program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), in which they will learn UAV and GIS operation, science materials and methods, and science communication and leadership skills. They will then return to their home communities where, with academic-year Upward Bound support, they will then use UAV’s as the basis for a local mapping project, which will be selected and designed in conjunction with community leaders. 

Project results will be presented by students at annual public meetings, and will be demonstrated for a nationwide audience of STEM educators at a workshop at the close of the project. Students will also work with a professional videographer to document the project for both students and educators. Project outcomes will be assiduously tracked by an external evaluator to gauge progress and success.