By Lori Kropidlowski, AEI employee and SAME Anchorage Post President, With contributions from Katy Kless and Jamie Ginn, AEI employees
On September 1st and 2nd, nine high school-aged campers from the Ahtna Region (Chitina, Kluti-Kaah, Glennallen, and Anchorage), along with their chaperones, attended a Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM), Construction, and Survey Camp sponsored by the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) and supported in-kind by Ahtna, Inc. This camp is the result of a year-long SAME Leadership Development Program that Ahtna Environmental, Inc. employee Lori Kropidlowski participated in. She chose this as her capstone project and was awarded $13,000 in funding from the United Engineering Foundation for the camp.
Led by Lori, the camp details came together through a committee of Ahtna shareholder management and staff, including Michelle Anderson, Kathryn Martin, Jamie Ginn, Tracy Parent, Mercedes (Starr) Knighten, Corina Ewan, and Crystal Ewan. The committee met regularly starting in January 2022 to envision what type of program would best serve Ahtna’s youth. The vision was to provide opportunity and educate the youth on what the STEM and construction industries are and what career opportunities Ahtna has to offer. Ahtna, Inc. Sr. Vice President Kathryn Martin also participated in a cultural awareness panel which benefitted other SAME Posts, such as Albuquerque, NM and Panama City, FL, who were participating in their own programs. Special thank yous go out to Ahtna Environmental, Inc. employees Katy Kless and Laura Reishus, who worked with Lori in the development of a student workbook and the PowerPoints used during the program.
The first day started with nervous high school students filing into the room. We were very excited as well. Jamie Ginn, an Ahtna shareholder and employee, helped facilitate the event. Jamie shared:
“As an Ahtna shareholder who grew up in the Ahtna region, I know where these kids have come from. I know what it is like to be them. Jobs are scarce in the Copper Valley, and the ability to gain training or skills is even more slim. As a graduating high school senior in 2005, all I wanted was a job. An ability to make money and support myself and potential family. Thank you for doing this for Ahtna’s youth. It is programs like these that can build up the region, pull people out of poverty, raise families, and change lives. I truly appreciate the effort, and that I got to be a part of it.”
The event began with the students and chaperones joining Ahtna shareholder staff for a Mexican lunch and a warm welcome by our President, Michelle Anderson. Michelle thanked them for participating and expressed that they should be open to learn how our companies support the region with opportunities as well as dividends. Initially the students were a bit reserved, but politely listened and asked questions.
During the hands-on STEM activities led by our Ahtna professional technical staff, we saw a fire in the participants’ eyes and a desire to learn! They were engaged and took initiative to run the equipment and get their “hands dirty.” The kids learned about laser scanning, water sampling, drone use for data collection and photography, concrete pouring, scaffolding building, and pipe cutting and fusion with hands-on activities led by professionals from Ahtna and partnering companies.
By the end of the first day, several students and their chaperones offered to do a video interview. In the interview they were asked what they wanted to get out of this camp. Multiple students answered with “a better understanding of what opportunities for careers I can follow through college and into adult life.” This was the whole goal of the camp. Taking kids who didn’t even know what STEM meant, educating them, and instilling excitement about the industry and possibly building the next generation of engineers and construction professionals. SUCCESS!
A video of the camp can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/753977670