Those Who Can Do Teach
Businesses supporting education
MTA partnered with Eagle River Robotics to create an engaging Tech Day at the 2018 Alaska State Fair.
Whether Alaskan students want a career in coding, to run high-tech mining equipment, work as a bank administrator, or transport goods across the country, having the proper education can play a huge part in their success. And considering that many of these students will stay in Alaska and work for local companies, it makes good business sense for these organizations to take part in the learning process.
This support can take a number of forms, from mentoring and internship opportunities to financial donations that establish scholarships and programs to facilitating classroom lectures. No matter how a business chooses to participate, schools value the partnerships that help them prepare the workforce of the future. And businesses also benefit from their involvement.
“We get as much out of our relationship with the Mat-Su School District as they get from us,” says MTA Marketing Specialist Jessica Gilbert. “The staff provides a lot of great ideas, and it enables us to have a dialog with community members. By getting involved with students and empowering them with the technology they need, it creates more customers for us in the future and the opportunity to recruit really talented people from our own community.”
While there are many positives associated with book learning, having industry experts come into the classroom gives students real-life perspectives. At Alaska Bible College located in Palmer, for example, members of the business community visit classes about once a month to share their experiences.
“We’ve had state senators come in to talk about politics, as well as financial leaders sharing insights on church management,” says Ray Rose, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Alaska Bible College. “I believe that you need to have real-world people teaching students and not just academics.
“When you have teachers who have been there and done that, you get a totally different perspective,” he adds. “Students often find that what they’ve read in books doesn’t always work in the real world; it’s good to hear from people who have been in the trenches. Partnering with the business community does this.”
Journeymen Lloyd Nieman gives a fiber demonstration at Snowshoe Elementary PTA’s STEM and Soup Expo.
MTA participating at the WHS Tech Expo showcasing e-sports in a learning environment.
“By getting involved with students and empowering them with the technology they need, it creates more customers for us in the future and the opportunity to recruit really talented people from our own community.”
Creating a Curriculum
In many cases, businesses work not just with students but with school administrators to guarantee that every young scholar learns real-life business skills.
“We are highly connected to industry and partner with all sorts of businesses on the North Slope, including Arctic Slope Regional Corporation [ASRC] and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation [UIC] in Barrow, as well as the North Slope Borough and forty-five other agencies,” says Arth Brown III, dean of Vocational Education and Workforce Development, Ilisaġvik College. “They help direct and support our programs and take part in a roundtable industry advisory board to make sure that our needs align.
“We want to know what these industries require, because we don’t want to offer trainings that won’t get our students employed,” he adds. “Their influence and participation in the education system ensures that our students are ready to go to work. They don’t have to retrain them starting on day one.”
As Alaska’s only tribal college, Ilisaġvik’s mission is rooted in Iñupiaq values and it serves the workforce needs of the region and the state, offering multiple associate degrees as well as a bachelor’s degree in business management. The college provides workforce training to approximately 2,000 students each year.
“ASRC offers support in so many ways, including helping to fund our drivers’ licensing in the villages project that helps students get their restricted off-system drivers’ licenses in the village before coming to campus to earn their full, unrestricted commercial licenses,” says Brown. “We completely restructured our CDL program because of their influence.”
Instead of a six-week course, Ilisaġvik now offers the CDL class in one-, two-, and then three-week sections so that nontraditional students can attend with no disruption to family and community commitments.
The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) also works in partnership with different industries to make sure that its professors are teaching what businesses need.
“We don’t want to be providing antiquated information that businesses don’t use anymore; for example, it’s important that students in our mine training program understand robotic technology because the industry has become much more automated than in the past,” says UAS Provost Karen Carey. “We want businesses to help us as we develop our curriculum so that in the end, they will be hiring our students.
“While some students come to college to get an education, most students today come to school to get a job,” she says. “We want to make sure that when they graduate, they are prepared for the career they want.”
“Students often find that what they’ve read in books doesn’t always work in the real world; it’s good to hear from people who have been in the trenches. Partnering with the business community does this.”
Drew Bryant, an Alaska Bible College graduate, prepping for take-off in a Kingdom Air Corps aircraft.
Drew Bryant stands in front of a Kingdom Air Corps aircraft that he used for flight training.
In addition to providing UAS with $300,000 for three years to train students in its Pathway to Mining Careers program, staff from Hecla Mining Company’s Greens Creek Mine visit classes to help with student training, and the company offers job shadowing opportunities. “A presenter might give a lecture on safety or the newest equipment or what to expect when a person first comes to work,” says Carey. “A lot of students are interested in hearing about what the work is really like from someone who is actively in the field.”
No matter what degree or certification a student is pursuing, there are usually businesses willing to help. UAS works with companies ranging from Vigor Alaska and Northrim Bank to the US Coast Guard and NOAA.
“In our outdoor studies program, students can intern as guides during the tourist season and, once they graduate, apply for full-time jobs,” says Carey. “We have a partnership with the Alaska Marine Highway System [AMHS] where we offer training in all things maritime on our Ketchikan campus, and AMHS hires our students to run ferries and other vessels. We also have a great relationship with the Coast Guard; there are numerous opportunities available to students, depending on what they want. Since the Coast Guard is a major employer in Southeast, this is a huge advantage.”
Ilisaġvik students completing the Class A CDL course.
Students set up containment bags while earning their Asbestos Worker Certification at Ilisaġvik College.
Monetary Gifts and In-Kind Services
While many businesses support schools monetarily, others offer discounts or in-kind services that can provide students with opportunities they otherwise couldn’t afford.
“About 54 percent of our student tuition comes from scholarships, grants, and gifts, and roughly 60 percent of that is provided primarily by successful business owners,” says Rose of Alaska Bible College’s benefactors.
For example, the college partners with Kingdom Air, which donates most of the airtime the school uses for training pilots. “Typically, teaching someone to fly a plane runs around $175 to $225 an hour; Kingdom trains our student pilots for the cost of gas, or about $50 an hour,” says Rose.
“Students can train to be private or IFR-rated pilots at a very low cost,” he adds. “We do the ground school and Kingdom does the air portion, and our students get real-world experience that allows them to fly anywhere in the world.”
MTA Solutions has been partnering with schools since it opened its doors in the 1950s but is now working more strategically to align its participation with its mission of being tech-forward.
Jaeleen Kookesh, Sealaska VP of Policy and Legal Affairs, speaks at the Student Alumni Association Business Etiquette dinner at the University of Alaska Southeast.
“While some students come to college to get an education, most students today come to school to get a job. We want to make sure that when they graduate, they are prepared for the career they want.”
“We have created partnerships with every school in our service area whether through formal outreach programs like the MTA Coding Academy at Wasilla Middle School or through less formal means like providing internet safety presentations at Sherrod Elementary School,” says Gilbert. “We’ve even worked with some schools out of our service area—we recently partnered with Apple to do a presentation on coding in Wasilla and Juneau, and we’re planning another presentation in Fairbanks.”
MTA established its Coding Academy at Wasilla Middle School in 2015 with the goal of teaching students about coding and building computers.
“It’s a very exciting program; every student has the chance to take part in the Coding Academy, whether they are already passionate about technology or want to explore their interest,” says Gilbert, adding that MTA is in the process of expanding the academy throughout the Mat-Su School District this year and expanding to other school districts in 2020.
MTA also partners with schools as part of their eUnlimited brand, providing consulting services to high schools and colleges, such as the University of Alaska, that want to ramp up their e-sports efforts. “We are currently consulting with schools to share our experience and to help them to get organized, and this has resulted in all of the schools that we work with getting ASAA [Alaska Student Athletic Association]-sanctioned,” says Gilbert.
The company runs an eUnlimited gaming series throughout the year, culminating in a family-friendly tournament where students can compete for cash and prizes.
“We partner with schools to take part in speaking engagements to talk about what e-sports is doing for the community,” says Gilbert. “And the tournament is a great networking activity that lets young gamers engage with those making a career out of e-sports, as well as communicate with our sponsors.”
In order to make sure that everyone has equal access to technology, MTA established Education Unlimited a few years ago to offer the Mat-Su School District and Eagle River school students and staff their products at lower prices. “In this digital age, all homework is done online, so we wanted to make sure that they had access to great broadband,” says Gilbert. The company has also provided scholarships for a number of years, including ones focused on students pursuing STEM and young women pursuing an education in technology.
“One of our youth coding initiatives, Girls Who Code, is a national program that we sponsor as a summer camp in the Valley,” says Gilbert. “This year, a lot of different women who work at MTA will be sharing their stories of how they use coding at work.”
By becoming involved with students who want to explore technology long before they enter the workforce, MTA says it is providing opportunities as well as priming the future workforce.
“We want to keep good students in Alaska and hire them at local companies, including MTA,” says Gilbert. “We know that it works; many of our interns have stayed with MTA for their entire careers and continue to be leaders in the company.”
Ashley Snooks from Spruce Root speaks at the Student Alumni Association Business Etiquette dinner at the University of Alaska Southeast.