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December 18, 2014

AMCS helps high school students accelerate into college

Nine students sat at their tables, each bent over a laptop and eyes intent as they focused on their tasks. The rapid clicking of fingers tapping keyboards made the only noise in the room.

Alaska Middle College School instructor John Robertson, left, helps Greyson Holohan with classwork. Robertson teaches high school classes and a support seminar for high school students taking college-level courses at UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Alaska Middle College School instructor John Robertson, left,
helps Greyson Holohan with classwork. Robertson teaches
high school classes and a support seminar for high school
students taking college-level courses at UAA’s
Chugiak-Eagle River Campus.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
“That’s my squirreliest group,” Alaska Middle College School teacher John Robertson said, smiling, watching his studious charges from a hall outside his classroom at UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus (CERC).

Robertson is one of two high school teachers participating in a collaboration between UAA’s Community & Technical College (CTC) and the Mat-Su Borough School District (MSBSD), which, since 2012, has made it possible for students to satisfy both high school graduation and UAA general education requirements by concurrently enrolling in high school and college courses.

Students may use the opportunity to accumulate credits for a UAA Associate of Arts degree while earning their high school diploma and MSBSD provides the students with free college tuition, free textbooks and free transportation via a Valley Mover bus.

AMCS offers a way for CTC to advance UAA’s strategic priorities of promoting student success and, through the school district partnership, strengthen ties between the university and Alaska communities. It’s also part of a broader college and career pathways strategy to help high school students seamlessly transition to college and retain Alaska’s qualified high school graduates, since many AMCS students will continue to study at UAA. Even students who enroll in college out of state can transfer credits, depending on which institution they choose to attend.

The University Honors College has also partnered with CERC to offer courses, in which AMCS students may participate—AMCS students filled an entire honors class novelist Don Rearden taught in 2013 and they had an opportunity to hear Nobel laureate and astrophysicist Brian P. Schmidt lecture later that year.

Looking toward the future


Yelena Sinyawski, 17, a high school junior, is taking her first semester of classes at AMCS. Every school day, she boards the Valley Mover at 6:45 a.m. outside the Wasilla Fred Meyer store and arrives at CERC 45 minutes later. She is currently taking four college classes—12 credits—and a high school algebra class she hopes to test out of by the end of the semester so she can enroll in a higher-level UAA algebra class.

Alaska Middle College School program coordinator Whitney Tisdale and students Shana Beattie, Alex Grey, Isabel Carpenter and Yelena Sinyawski stand outside UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus building, where AMCS high school classes and UAA classes take place. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Alaska Middle College School program coordinator
Whitney Tisdale and students Shana Beattie, Alex Grey,
Isabel Carpenter and Yelena Sinyawski stand outside
UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus building, where
AMCS high school classes and UAA classes take place.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Before, Yelena said she attended school in Wasilla amid about 1,300 other students.

“It’s high school—they don’t treat you like an adult,” she said of her previous high school experience. “It felt like I was wasting time. I was ready for a higher level.”

“The high school requirements and prerequisites required for college, they overlap,” she said. “The first two years when you enter college you’re just taking those prereq[uisite]s where you have to take a quantitative skill, writing skills, things like that. In high school you have to take three years of math, four years of English. Those last two years, they just overlap, so I think that’s why this program is really cool because it just gets both of that. It pretty much puts four years [of college] into two.”

AMCS doesn’t offer a conventional homecoming-and-prom high school experience—though students may participate in those types of events back at their home schools. What it does offer, Yelena said, is a chance for a motivated student to quickly move forward through college toward a career—with less loan debt to repay.

“I think a lot of the thing that’s pulling people back is the whole concept of high school,” she said. “There’s the whole rosy-colored concept of high school portrayed in the media. The people who come here are the ones who are looking into the future and what it’s going to bring. That’s what I’m looking at. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, my high school has to be the best years of my life.’ No. I’m looking toward the future and those are going to be some good years because I’m going to be done two years earlier than most people my age.”

‘Everybody talks to everybody’


Isabel Carpenter first learned about AMCS after her mother saw information about it on Facebook.

“Originally we had lived in Washington and they had a thing kind of like this called ‘Running Start,’” she said. “I still wanted to do that. When we found they had it up here, we were really excited. So I was still able to get that opportunity of going to college early, get a head start.”

Isabel attended Colony High School prior to enrolling at AMCS.

“It was good, I guess,” she said. “There’s always so much drama, I feel like, and I focus mainly on the schoolwork part of it rather than getting involved. My parents always said I would do better in a college-type situation better than a high school.”

Teens enrolled in Alaska Middle College School are among the students in Solveig Pedersen’s class at UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Teens enrolled in Alaska Middle College School are
among the students in Solveig Pedersen’s class at
UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Isabel filled out a form explaining why she wanted to join, then took Accuplacer—a placement test that assesses students’ skills in English and math—to see where she would fit in. She received an acceptance notice a few weeks later.

“Right now I’m filling in the high school part of it the best as I can, so I can finish and be done with that part and move on to the regular college stuff,” she said.

Isabel is taking four college classes—biology, psychology, interpersonal communications, English—and a high school algebra class. She was preparing to take another Accuplacer test she hopes will get her into a college math class: “I’m hoping to get into [Math]105 for one semester and 107 the next,” she said.

Her goal is to study computer science.

“I feel more focused,” she said. “I’m getting more help because it’s a smaller group. I think I work better. It’s a lot of work but I like it. I just think I work a lot better in this atmosphere—you still have a lot to do but it’s relaxed. You have to work, but it’s on your own terms and at your own pace. There’s no drama at all here. That’s nice, too. You know, the typical girls drama, fighting about boys, stuff like that. Or there’s like the popular groups and everyone has a little group. Here, everybody talks to everybody. There is no certain group.”

‘I saved so much money’

Andrew Nelson attended Alaska Middle College School, where he amassed 54 credits before graduating. He is now a freshman at UAA who plans to attend nursing school. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Andrew Nelson attended Alaska Middle College School,
where he amassed 54 credits before graduating. He is
now a freshman at UAA who plans to attend nursing school.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Andrew Nelson, 19, is attending UAA. Thanks to AMCS, he is six credits shy of an associate degree, has finished two years of prerequisite and general education classes and is ready to delve into nursing studies.

He became interested in nursing and anesthesiology after injuring his spleen in a snowboarding mishap and spending time in a hospital.

“I’ve always known what I wanted to do for college and I knew it would be expensive,” he said.

He and his sister, Faith, both attended AMCS after switching over from Colony High School in their junior year. They would drive there so they could return to Colony in the early afternoons and continue participating in sports while attending AMCS.

“I saved so much money—two years of tuition at UAA, all my classes and books minus dorm and food,” he said.

Getting support


AMCS offers a way for high school students to start amassing college credit before they graduate. It also provides guidance to students taking those college courses.

Robertson teaches high school social studies and English, in addition to offering a support seminar that helps high school students enrolled in college English, social science or humanities courses.

“We have students who come in who can do well on Accuplacer and have the cognitive skills to do fairly well in introductory college courses, but lack time-management skills and those sorts of nonacademic skills required to do well in college,” he said. “The seminar is there to give these students some support so they can get their work done on time. College freshmen really suffer from time-management problems and it’s a big reason for them to fail courses their freshman year and ultimately drop out.”

AMCS instituted the seminar class last semester, said Kim Griffis, CERC director, to help students better transition between high school and college.

AMCS students are among those who learn philosophy in William Jamison’s class at UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
AMCS students are among those who learn philosophy in
William Jamison’s class at UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
“The responsibility of being a college student is much different than the responsibility of being a high school student,” Griffis said. “In the seminar, they can get help interpreting a syllabus or assignment, have someone they can bounce questions off that they might not be comfortable asking in class. It’s a form of study hall. We see them starting to form study groups, starting to see collaboration. It shows them how to set goals and meet expectations. We’re hoping to see a difference, in higher grades.”

Griffis said 34 students graduated from AMCS’s first class.

• Nineteen of those 34 received 30 or more college credits.

• Nineteen of those students stayed in Alaska and continued taking courses within the UA system—18 with UAA, one with UA Southeast. “We’re hoping to keep that up,” Griffis said.

• Four students qualified for Associate of Arts degrees.

More than 100 students enrolled at AMCS this fall; 92 are taking one or more college courses.

AMCS offers an innovative way to offer education, she said.

“It allows students ready for college to expedite their studies,” Griffis said. “There’s a select group of students ready for this kind of opportunity, who can do the collegiate work and be successful. In an era when education is costly to parents, I think this is a wonderful option for students who may not have had that opportunity any other way.”

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement. This article originally appeared in Green & Gold News on Dec. 3, 2014.

December 10, 2014

Gymnast soars in piloting program

B.S. Professional Piloting, Class of 2016
Hometown: Schwarzenbach am Wald, Bavaria, Germany
Fun Fact: In her early career, she trained with the German national gymnastics team.

9.875, 9.725, 4.0

I AM UAA: Marie-Sophie Boggasch. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
I AM UAA: Marie-Sophie Boggasch.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Those are just a few of Marie-Sophie Boggasch’s scores from her time at UAA (on vault, on bars and on her cumulative grade point average, respectively). They’re impressive numbers for any student, but more remarkable when you consider this international student/Seawolf athlete/top-tier student is also a professional piloting major with a campus job as a flight instructor. As one of the few student-athletes in the piloting program, she spends most of her time in the air—sometimes flying over the Anchorage Bowl, other times hurtling between uneven bars.

Nearing the end of high school in Germany, Marie-Sophie sent out inquiries to a few American schools and Paul Stoklos—UAA’s 30-years-and-counting gymnastics coach—was among the first to respond. And with a full scholarship.

“It was definitely the best offer [and] Alaska sounded adventurous,” Marie-Sophie recalled. When she told her parents about UAA, they had one immediate response. “First, we had to Google,” she laughed.

The first time Marie-Sophie ever set foot in the States was just two years ago, on her recruiting trip to UAA. Every NCAA-eligible athlete is allowed two days to visit each prospective team, and the 48-hour limit holds even for international students with days of travel time. Thankfully, Anchorage made a quick impression.

“I flew back to Germany, packed all of my stuff and flew back to Alaska,” she said.

It was a busy first few days. Her parents joined her for the big move North and were equally impressed. “They said ‘We feel good about leaving you here’ because I already knew I had five people I can call at any point, and that was after two weeks being here,” Marie-Sophie noted. “And also my parents knew they could call those five people.”

Her folks have already returned… twice. “They love it here and I think they would move in a heartbeat if it would be possible,” she noted. “Especially my dad. He’s all over Alaska.”

As a student-athlete, she’s been able to see a lot more of the country—and appreciate Alaska a lot more as well. With meets in six states just this season—from Knoxville to Milwaukee to Colorado Springs—she has plenty of chances to see how American America can be. “I got to travel through the Lower 48 and then I got back here and, well, this isn’t even American,” she laughed.

Finding flying


As a piloting major on the gymnastics team, Marie-Sophie doesn’t stay grounded very often. (Photo by Sam Wasson/UAA Athletics)
As a piloting major on the gymnastics team,
Marie-Sophie doesn’t stay grounded very often.
(Photo by Sam Wasson/UAA Athletics)
Marie-Sophie’s first few days were full of surprises. She met other German student-athletes almost immediately, and quickly discovered UAA had an entire aviation campus she had missed on her 48-hour visit. It was incredible news.

Flying has always been on Marie-Sophie’s list of dream jobs. “Since I could think, I wanted to be an astronaut,” she said. She later learned astronauts spend most of their careers rooted on planet earth and had a change of heart. “[I thought] Well, that’s boring, I’m going to be a pilot.”

Growing up in Germany, she planned to enroll in a training program with Lufthansa, the country’s national carrier. She viewed UAA as a four-year detour from her eventual aviation plans, and declared a major in international studies. “Lufthansa isn’t offered in Alaska anywhere, so I thought I can take it easy, be here for fun and have a nice college experience,” she commented.

“Then I came up here and saw this huge aviation complex—we just drove by randomly on my second day here and I thought, well I didn’t even know they have this program here!” The day before the semester started, she dropped every one of her original classes, called her coach to update him on the big change, and signed up for a full slate of aviation courses. “I basically changed my major even before I went to college,” she joked.

Now a junior in the program, she’s made a home on the aviation campus and found one of the most unique student jobs on campus: flight instructor. She works 20 hours per week, and spends the bulk of that time riding shotgun in UAA’s fleet while training younger piloting students.

A day on the job could take Marie-Sophie almost anywhere in central Alaska. As students advance in the program, they extend their flights from local loops to 50 nautical mile treks and even 250 nautical mile straight-shots—a distance reached by flying to Kenai, then Fairbanks, then Anchorage in a day.

The long flights do have one added benefit—restaurants on the road. After touching down in Homer, for example, she has a favorite pizza place on the shoreline staked out for dinner—Starvin’ Marvin’s, just a quick walk from the airstrip. She enjoys those moments most, when she’s not observing for errors and ticking off checklists. “That’s just kind of a nice break for [students],” she said. “They get to see “Hey, we’re actually here to enjoy our day today.”

Not surprisingly, a student-athlete with a campus job requiring near-daily flights across Alaska must be exceptionally busy. Every morning, Marie-Sophie starts her day at 7:30 a.m. for a four-hour practice. Next, she has just 30 minutes to get to aviation campus. Her classes this semester start at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. depending on the day, and the time between practice and class is spent flight instructing or working on her own multi-engine training—the next level in the piloting program. Occasionally, she even takes students on night flights after class.

It’s a constant grind, but her schedule is split between her two favorite things—flying planes and flying in the gym. She radiates calm, control and enthusiasm—all ideal traits for a gymnast—and, through it all, she’s maintained a 4.0 GPA (one of only three gymnasts in the entire conference to hold such a mark).

Gymnastics life


Marie-Sophie completes a routine at last season’s home meet against UC-Davis. (Photo by Sam Wasson/UAA Athletics)
Marie-Sophie completes a routine at last season’s home meet
against UC-Davis.  (Photo by Sam Wasson/UAA Athletics)
Since starting gymnastics at age 7, Marie-Sophie has only ever taken a three-month break from the sport.

“I missed it so much,” she admitted. “Since then I’m kind of in that gymnastics life.”

The constant quest for the next level—much like professional piloting—is what draws her to the sport. “I need challenges in my life. It can’t just be boring, and gymnastics is definitely not boring,” she said, reflecting on that one three-month break from gymnastics. “I just missed pushing myself every day and going to my limits.”

Of all the Seawolf sports, the gymnastics team is perhaps most energized about the new Alaska Airlines Center. For the past 30 years, the team practiced on the other end of Anchorage, scraping ice off vans and dragging all their equipment across town whenever they hosted a meet on campus. Now, they have an entire gym exclusively for the team.

Her primary events at UAA are vault and bars, and this year has potential to be a record-setter.

“[Bars is] the event where some of the athletes struggle the hardest to be competitive. That happens to be her best event,” said coach Paul Stoklos of Marie-Sophie’s potential this season. “She’s working very hard to improve herself … Marie has probably the most difficult bar routine we’ve had. If she can do the routine, it would be the most difficult routine we’ve had an athlete throw.”

Anchorage residents have six chances to catch the team this year. The Seawolves debut at the new arena with a free-admission intrasquad meet Dec. 13, and end the season with a bang in March. They’ll host the conference meet for the first time in program history. “Now that we have the facility, we can really show it off,” Marie-Sophie smiled.

Graduation is still a few semesters away, but Maria-Sophie already has plans to stick around Anchorage. Visa issues aside, her dream jobs all include piloting small aircraft throughout the 49th state. Maybe she’ll fly supplies and medicine to Bush communities. Perhaps she’ll pilot a private jet. One thing she knows for sure—the early Lufthansa plan has lost its luster. “The Alaska Bush flying is really what got me,” she said. “I don’t really want to go into airlines anymore. I’m better off if I have a little jet airplane and [don’t] have to deal with 300 passengers in the back.”

Until then, she has three more incredibly busy semesters ahead. But whether she’s corkscrewing around the uneven bars or coasting into mountain passes, chalking her hands in the gym or behind controls at the hangar, she hopes to make the most of Alaska for years to come.

Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement. This article originally appeared in Green & Gold News on Nov. 19, 2014.

November 21, 2014

Colorado fifth grader plans to become a Seawolf one day

It all started when the UAA Welding & Nondestructive Testing Technology program received a somewhat unconventional inquiry letter from a prospective student.

Fifth grader Angel Nunez is already thinking about attending UAA to study welding.
Fifth grader Angel Nunez is already thinking about
attending UAA to study welding.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Chacon/Twombly Elementary School
Dear Sir/Madam

Hello, my name is Angel Nunez and I am a 5th grader at Twombly Elementary School in Ft. Lupton, Colorado. I hope to one day attend your wonderful trade school for welding and one day get my welding license. Could you please send me two posters and two pennants to hang up in my bedroom and classroom to remind me how hard I need to work to achieve this goal.

Thanks,
Angel Nunez

View a copy of Angel’s original letter

Welding faculty and staff members along with a student helped put together a goodie box for Angel. From L to R: Christine Van Valkenburg, Ashley Rylander and Kelly Smith
Welding faculty and staff members along with a student helped
put together a goodie box for Angel. From L to R:
Christine Van Valkenburg, Ashley Rylander and Kelly Smith
As one might imagine, the faculty and staff in the welding program eagerly welcomed the interest shown by this aspiring Seawolf. Administrative assistant Christine Van Valkenburg and Transportation & Power Division Director Kelly Smith packaged up a box of UAA goodies to send along to Nunez courtesy of the Office of New Student Recruitment and the Community & Technical College, which houses the program.

Welding student Ashley Rylander also joined in the fun and sported her protective welding gear, complete with leathers and helmet, for a photo.

Smith also included a personalized letter informing Nunez of career opportunities available to welders and invited him to visit the program if he and his family visit Alaska.

“The welding industry holds many opportunities for people who are willing to work hard and learn new things,” wrote Smith. “A career in welding can take you anywhere in the world. Welders are important for building roads, bridges, airplanes, ships, and many other things.”

We think Angel was just a little excited about receiving a package from UAA.
We think Angel was just a little excited about
receiving a package from UAA.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Chacon/
Twombly Elementary School
How did Nunez respond when he received the UAA package? We think the picture says it all.

The moral of the story – it’s never too early to start thinking about college. We’ll be looking for your admission application, Angel (in another seven years or so)!

Note: The letter-writing assignment is part of the curriculum teacher Jordan Chacon uses in his class at Twombly Elementary School to help students begin thinking about college at an early age. Chacon shared that Nunez has a family member who works in the welding industry, which sparked (pun intended) his interest in this field.

UAA’s College & Career Pathways program serves Alaska’s students in a similar way. By partnering with schools to provide learning and mentoring support, the program helps high school students seamlessly transition to college.

Story by Kirstin Olmstead, Communications Coordinator, UAA Community & Technical College