Rural Alaska Honors Institute graduates set academic record

The Rural Alaska Honors Institute Class of 2017 earned the highest GPA this year, setting a new record. Photo by JR Ancheta/UAF

by Leona Long

Forty-two Alaska Native and rural high school students  graduated earlier this month from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Rural Alaska Honors Institute with the highest average GPA in the program’s 35-year history.

The students earned an average GPA of 3.68 during their six weeks of living as university students in Fairbanks, doing community service projects and taking on challenging academic work.

“For many students participating in the Rural Alaska Honors Institute is a life-changing experience,” said Denise Wartes, RAHI’s program manager. “While at the Troth Yeddha’ campus, these students learn how to successfully transition from their village or rural community to become successful university students. These students return to their communities ready to grow into leadership positions in their communities and Alaska.”

The 42 students came from 20 rural communities and Alaska Native villages, as well as Fairbanks and Anchorage. Three students had parents who attended RAHI. Nine students had a sibling who had attended earlier.

The graduation ceremony included speeches by RAHI’s top students and a keynote address by Nathan McCowan, a 1994 RAHI alumnus who is now the president and CEO at St. George Tanaq Corp. in Anchorage. The RAHI valedictorian was Brian Conwell from Unalaska.

Salutatorian Elena Jacobs, of Bethel, spoke and invited the 17 other students who earned straight A’s to join her on stage to share the honor. The valedictorian for RAHI research was Ana Stringer from Barrow.

RAHI prepares students for academic achievement and to grow into leadership positions in their communities and Alaska. RAHI’s 2016 valedictorian, Wilfried Zibell, was accepted to Harvard and Yale universities and will study government at Harvard this fall. James Flemings and Taylor Holman, also part of the 2016 RAHI class, are summer interns for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Washington, D.C.

Under the direction of UAF postdoctoral fellow Holly McKinney, the eight RAHI research students studied ancient DNA in dog bones from an archaeological dig. They ended their coursework with a field trip to the Shaw Creek Archaeological Field School southeast of Fairbanks. The students presented their research findings in a report and poster.

“Participating in the Rural Alaska Honors Institute gives rural and Alaska Native students the confidence and credentials to achieve their goals,” said Wartes. “In May, alumnus Ben Renshaw from Healy graduated from the University of Washington medical school, and two other alumni are attending medical school as well. RAHI provides a rigorous academic curriculum that helps students stand out, whether it’s at an elite university, medical school or prestigious law school.”

Since its inception in 1983 at the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives, RAHI has prepared more than 1,800 rural and Alaska Native high school students to adjust academically and socially to college life. During the six weeks of living in on-campus housing, students earn up to 11 college credits. In addition to required courses in English, library science, study skills and transitioning to college, traditional RAHI students choose from electives in process technology, business, chemistry and math. Three times a week, students choose from taekwondo, yoga or Alaska Native dance classes.

Students also had the opportunity to meet with University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen and Alaska Army National Guard Col. Wayne Don, a RAHI alumnus who will be a co-keynote speaker for this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

Compared to other rural Alaska Native students, RAHI students are twice as likely to successfully earn a bachelor’s degree (19 percent vs. 10 percent), according to an independent study by the American Institutes for Research. The research also measured students’ University of Alaska grade point averages and discovered that RAHI students achieve “superior academic performance” while attending the University of Alaska.

RAHI is made possible by the generous financial support from the UAF College of Rural and Community Development and sponsors like Wells Fargo, New York Life, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Arctic Slope Community Foundation, First National Bank of Alaska, Sitnasuak Native Corp., ConocoPhillips, Shell, Future Educators of Alaska, NANA Management Services, Ravn Alaska, Boeing, Crowley, and Kuukpik Corp. Students attend at no cost and have their travel expenses paid.

RAHI Class of 2017

Kayci Andrews, Mountain Village; Katie Beans, St. Marys; Harding Black, Selawik; Kayla Booth, Kotzebue; Tirzah Bryant, Galena; Taylor Burkett, Grayling; Jawn Carl, Kipnuk; Henry Charles, Kasigluk; Annalise Contreras, Nome; Megan Contreras, Nome; Brian Conwell, Unalaska; Bazaal Emelianoff, Wainwright; Tanya Hall, Noatak; Naomi Hernandez, Utqiagvik; Julie Jackson, Nome; Kylee Jackson, Ketchikan; Elena Jacobs, Bethel/Wasilla; David Kokrine, Fairbanks; Cassidy Kramer, Kotzebue; Miriam Kulowiyi, Savoonga; Jonathan Le, Unalaska; Dalton Macar, Crooked Creek; Annie Masterman, Bethel; Harrison Moore, Nome; Daphne Mueller, Utqiagvik; Bridget Nalam, Unalaska; McJun Nobleza, Utqiagvik; Miya Page, Noatak; Nicole Patkotak, Utqiagvik/ Anchorage; Leanida Polushkin, Homer; Ana Stringer, Utqiagvik; Misty Sundown, Scammon Bay; Regina Tuluk, Chevak; June Tuluk, Chevak; Karlon Tuluk, Chevak; Alyssa Tungul, Unalaska; Denae Ulak, Scammon Bay; Samantha Wade, Wainwright; David Wilcox, Sitka; Jayna Wolgemuth, Utqiagvik; Charles Wolgemuth, Utqiagvik; Jasmine Woods, Anchorage.