Fifth graders enjoyed their first day of college at Ilisagvik College in Barrow, Alaska.

The Youngest Students at Ilisagvik College


When is too soon for students to start thinking about going  to college? Ilisagvik College students and faculty think it's never too early and has joined the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education to host the I'm Going to College event April 18.

Ilisagvik College hosted fifth graders from Fred Ipalook Elementary School, who got to experience four college classes. The first course on construction trades was taught by Ilisagvik instructors Dave Elbert and John Howlett. Matt Brower, an Ipalook student, said his favorite part of the course was learning how to handle a "real blow torch" and "riding the scissor lift."

In an allied health class the students dissected cow eyes, which Ipalook student Crystal Kilapsuk described as "funny." There was also a session on technology and one on Inupiat values and history. The Inupiat class was taught by Fannie Akpik, assistant professor of Inupiaq studies, who taught the fifth graders how science is essential to Native culture, especially when it comes to building sod huts and the physics of drumming and singing.

She related stories of her own childhood to the students, and told them about learning English as a second language, which she said she learned so she could read the comic books her father brought her.

“To learn English was hard but I’m glad I did,” Akpik said. She said she wouldn't be where she is today without it. "Please enjoy learning," she told the children.

Each participating student was presented with a certificate of completion by Ilisagvik College president Dr. Brooke Gondara at an informal graduation ceremony. At the ceremony each student received a backpack with a piggy bank containing $1 inside, to help them start saving for college.

Alaska's I'm Going to College program started in 2004 with kids from six school visiting three colleges. The program now reaches more than 2,300 fifth and sixth graders from 30 schools, who visit 13 college campuses in Alaska.

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