OPINION: ANSEP transformed my future. I want to expand that opportunity for others.

As a young student, I never envisioned the path that would lead me to where I am today. I’ve earned multiple degrees as an Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program student, including being the first Alaska Native with a Ph.D. in civil engineering, and held many roles as an ANSEP staff member. Now at the head of this organization that has done so much and meant so much for me, I know I’m in the right place to make a difference for the next generation of Alaskans, especially for those who are full of potential but might not yet have discovered the tools they need to succeed.

Growing up in Homer and moving to Anchorage during high school, I felt uncertain about what my future might hold, like most young people entering adulthood. My initial attempt at finding my way was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard and attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. After realizing that I could not be a rescue swimmer as an officer, I returned to Alaska interested in pursuing higher education but did not have a means to pay for school. Discouraged in my pursuit of higher education, I found new hope when I was introduced to the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

In 1995, ANSEP was introduced as a scholarship opportunity for Alaska Native students pursuing a higher education — students like me. Since then, the program has evolved into an education model that recruits and retains students of all backgrounds and ethnicities to pursue a degree in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or business. In my nearly 25 years with ANSEP, I have earned my bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering thanks to the program’s support. I am proudly the first Alaska Native in the world — and remain the only — to earn a Ph.D. in civil engineering; however, I have been working with another student since middle school who will earn their Ph.D. in civil engineering next spring.

I joined the ANSEP staff as the pre-college director in 2006. In this role, I traveled to high schools across Alaska, bringing computer parts and guiding students in building their own computers. Students were allowed to keep the computers if they agreed to take three courses prior to graduating high school: chemistry, trigonometry and physics. During my two years as the pre-college director, more than 500 computers were built, and 75% of the participating students successfully completed these gateway courses. I later joined the University of Alaska Anchorage faculty alongside fellow ANSEP graduate Michele Yatchmeneff as the first Alaska Native tenure-track assistant professor in engineering at the UAA. Now, after graduating in some of the earliest ANSEP cohorts, I am honored to serve the program as executive director.

Throughout my journey with ANSEP, both as a student and as an employee, I’ve learned the importance of never giving up. I’ve faced failures in the past and undoubtedly will face them again in the future, but the key is to keep going. This lesson in resilience is something I will carry with me and share with students as I step into my new role as executive director. Never surrender.

I am leading ANSEP at an exciting time for the program, but I am not doing it alone. I am thankful for the unwavering support of the ANSEP team. Having worked closely with many members of the ANSEP team for many years, I value their dedication and expertise as we strive to enhance academic opportunities for students together.

Since our founding almost 30 years ago, ANSEP has experienced nearly continuous growth. This May, we celebrated our largest-ever graduating class of students from our full-time dual-credit Acceleration Academy, which enables students to progress from eighth grade to a bachelor’s degree in five years. Moreover, the opportunity helps students mitigate college debt because they are simultaneously earning college credits while fulfilling high school requirements. Other opportunities such as Summer Bridge, which places graduating high school seniors in paid STEM internships, have also reached record enrollment levels.


As our existing opportunities continue to grow, we aim to evolve and reach younger students. One way we plan on doing so is boosting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in K-5 classrooms with the revival of our STEM Academy opportunity. We also plan to expand our full-time dual-credit Acceleration Academy opportunity in the coming years, granting even more students access to one of our most successful opportunities.

When I was a young student, ANSEP transformed my future by opening up a world of possibilities where I could pursue the highest levels of education and give back to my community. Many ANSEP students share this goal, aspiring to return value to both rural and urban communities across the state. Our end goal is to have a greater representation of Alaska Natives in key industries and leadership roles so that we have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about the future of our state.

We also remain committed to strengthening our relationships with our strategic partners, both old and new. The support of these strategic partners allow us to bring opportunities to students across Alaska at no cost and also to facilitate paid internships that give students valuable, hands-on professional experience. This year, ANSEP expanded our partnerships with the Baird Foundation to introduce ANSEP Business, which will help Alaska Native and other students better understand the worlds of economics, business and entrepreneurship with the goal of assisting students in the pursuit of higher education in financial service-focused studies. We’ve also expanded our partnerships with longstanding partners like Boeing and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand internship opportunities for Summer Bridge students.

As I step into this role with ANSEP, I reflect on the immense value of access to cost-effective education. I am committed to ensuring we provide essential resources and programs to the students of Alaska and help improve the educational outcomes in our state. Alaska faces many challenges in education and workforce development, but ANSEP’s opportunities will remain a powerful catalyst for recruiting and retaining home-grown talent across the state in the coming years.

Matt Calhoun, whose Alaska Native name is Ggax, is the executive director of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. He has a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a master’s in civil engineering from Colorado University at Boulder, and a bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Alaska Anchorage. When he’s not at work leading the ANSEP program, he enjoys spending time with his family.

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