A University of Alaska system partnership established this summer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aims to provide career opportunities to Alaska Native and rural Alaska students.

The Partnership Education Program Alaska, or PEP Alaska, was developed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries.

Sorina Stalla, a policy analyst with the International Arctic Research Center who helped develop PEP Alaska, said the program was created to build “a more direct connection between education and work experience,” as well as a pathway into the marine science career field.

The program partners with Alaska Native and rural Alaskan serving institutions, and the University of Alaska system.

“So what we’re seeking to do is provide opportunities to undergraduate students in the work force,” Stalla said.

They modeled the program in part after the longitudinal education model employed by the Alaska Native Science and Engineering program, Stalla said, as the developers wanted to expand upon and leverage the success of that program to provide additional opportunities and workforce experience.

Five students participated in PEP Alaska, Stalla said, comprising four from Alaska and one from Outside. 

The first two weeks of the program had the students participating in a course focused on marine life and the Arctic, as well as NOAA’s research.

Despite being drawn to the program together, the students study different areas. For example, Stalla said, one student is focused on studying humpback whales, while another was monitoring salmon populations.

“So I think this sort of allowed them to experience things outside of their discipline, especially in that first two-week course,” she said.

Stalla said the scientists working with the students tried to help them create a cohort to recognize they can support and help one another within their fields of study.

After the initial two weeks of course work, the internship portion of the program began. It took the students to NOAA offices and labs for experience in the workforce.

Stalla said that, moving forward, the developers are looking to create a consortium program for this model, which would be more widespread and able to provide more opportunities to students. The results of this first summer are still being evaluated and the program as still being developed as it grows, but Stalla said it’s looking likely PEP Alaska will return next summer.

The goal, Stalla said, would not only be to provide students with a pathway toward work in marine sciences, but also to “transform the existing workforce to be more diverse and inclusive” as students graduate into their careers.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMlocal.