ANSEP Celebrates 21 Years

For the UAS Whalesong

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) started in 1995 as a scholarship program for  University of Alaska students. ANSEP has grown over the last 20 years into a program that has students starting in the sixth grade and has the ability to follow the student through the PhD level. In the last year ANSEP has grown to more than 1500 students.

Every year, towards the end of January, ANSEP hosts a celebration banquet. During this event students from middle school through graduate school, professors and teachers, corporation leaders, government officials, and state workers come together to celebrate students and their education and to celebrate and thank the many sponsors who make ANSEP’s mission possible.

Over the course of the dinner several students stepped on stage to speak about how ANSEP changed their lives through education. When given the resources and support they were able to push further than would have been possible otherwise.

The main speaker this year was Dr. Anita Sengupta, who is an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and also ANSEP’s first female keynote speaker. It was her team of engineers that developed the supersonic parachute system that allowed Curiosity to successfully land on Mars.

While talking about the parachute, Dr. Sengupta spoke of failure. Mars’ atmosphere is thin compared to that of the Earth and tests needed to be conducted because they only would have one shot at slowing down the probe carrying the Curiosity. There were many teams working on each phase of the seven-minute landing process. During the first test, the supersonic parachute and a test probe were dropped out of a helicopter. The parachute failed to open because of miscalculation. Failure is an important part of the process and should always be learned from and not a reason to give up, said Sengupta.

She also spoke about diversity and how people bring perspectives that can truly be revolutionary, which is extremely important when it comes to creating new technology.

If you are motivated and willing to work hard, then you are guaranteed to work in your field, said Sengupta.

After her speech there was a time for questions from the students (mainly the middle school students in attendance) and other guests. Their questions ranged from the type of fuel used to get to Mars, how new planets are named, and Dr. Sengupta’s thoughts on when humans may make their way to Mars or another planet. There were many more questions that people would have liked to ask, but due to the time allotted, were unable to. So we learned that if you have questions, Twitter, surprisingly enough, is one of the most effective ways of communicating with NASA’s scientists and engineers. Before closing, Dr. Sengupta brought up a quote from Theodore Von Karman: “Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.”

Just a few years ago, ANSEP at UAS began with just four students and one very enthusiastic professor. Each year since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds. If you are involved in a science, technology, engineering, or math degree, or are even thinking about one look into joining this program. I have been an ANSEP student since my junior year of high school and from my personal experience, I can say that ANSEP creates a community of people from different places, but with similar goals and motivation. There are many opportunities though this program to help students achieve and new students are always welcome.

For more information please contact Dr. Cox at

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