The second spring session of the University of Alaska Southeast’s Center for Mine Training began Tuesday evening with a high-powered special guest speaker.
Gov. Sean Parnell told Director Mike Bell’s students they were exploring “a path of opportunity” by taking the course. Bell’s class was created for high school students with an interest in mining careers.
During his 30-minute appearance before the class, Parnell fielded questions from students on mining and other topics, including his “Choose Respect” campaign against domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Bell introduced Parnell after speaking briefly about the goals of the “Introduction to Mining Occupations and Operations” class. According to him, more than 20 schools are enrolled in the distance learning course.
“This class came about last year through a gift from the Hecla Greens Creek mine,” Bell said. “They … asked us to try to develop a local workforce. You’re the local workforce in Juneau.”
While perhaps a dozen students, representing Juneau-Douglas High School, Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School and Thunder Mountain High School, were present for Tuesday’s class in Egan Library, students from elsewhere participated remotely. Some submitted questions online.
In his comments and responses to student questions, Parnell kept returning to the theme of “opportunity” in describing the course, the goal of which is to give high school seniors an idea of what a career in the mining industry would be like.
“We’re here because we want to create a path of opportunity for you — not to hand you something, but to clear a path so you can go grasp something,” Parnell said. “That’s why you’re in this class, I think, and that’s my hope for you, that you will posture yourselves as students for that very reason.”
Bell explained what he believes is the appeal of mining.
“To a large extent, it’s about money,” said Bell. “To me, it’s about being a resident of Alaska and honestly loving the state of Alaska, really being proud to live here. There are a lot of good jobs out there coming up in the mining industry. There are good jobs right now, today, in the mining industry, not just the ones coming up.”
“The mining industry offers some of the highest-paying jobs in Alaska,” Parnell said. “That’s something I can tell you we’re working to continue.”
One student asked Parnell about a public service television spot he did in 2009 with Juneau-raised basketball player Carlos Boozer for his Choose Respect initiative.
Parnell said he “really enjoyed” making the commercial with Boozer, and then he pivoted to the substance of the Choose Respect campaign.
“I really just want to encourage you that it really is time for you to make your generation to make this the last generation that puts up with domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual abuse in our homes,” said Parnell.
As Parnell prepared to wrap up his comments, the subject turned back to mining.
“I think it’s all about what you put into this course,” Parnell told the students, reiterating his earlier point. Indicating Bell, he added, “It’s really not his job. It’s your job to open the door of opportunity that’s being offered.”
The class recessed for a 10-minute break after Parnell departed.
As the high school seniors milled about the ground floor of the library, UAS Provost Richard Caulfield commented on the distance education aspect of the course, which enables students elsewhere in the state to watch via live video feed and talk back using remote devices.
“It’s piloting a new means of sharing this kind of information, not only in one place, as you can see, but all across the state,” said Caulfield.” “And so we’re excited to be a part of a new way of delivering this kind of an opportunity to high school students across the state.”
Caulfield said he sees UAS’ role in the mining industry as being to train a local workforce for the “excellent opportunities” he said can be found in mining.
“One of the things I really liked about the governor’s message was that he encouraged young people to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them,” Caulfield added. “Don’t just sit back, but really seize the opportunity to learn about career pathways in the mining industry and all the different occupations that are out there, and take advantage of those.”
The “Introduction to Mining Occupations” class is one of some 42 being offered by Alaska’s Learning Network, a coalition of school districts from around the state housed at the Alaska Council of School Administrators in Juneau. The cost of the course is $544.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.