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UAS to fund STEM scholarships with cruise line cash donations

Two companies committed to donating $1 million to the University of Alaska system

Posted: September 25, 2013 - 8:35pm  |  Updated: September 26, 2013 - 12:14am
The Mount Roberts Tramway's eagle car approaches the "mountain house" as morning fog breaks up over Gastineau Channel on Wednesday. Wednesday was the last day of cruise ship season and the public operations of the tramway.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
The Mount Roberts Tramway's eagle car approaches the "mountain house" as morning fog breaks up over Gastineau Channel on Wednesday. Wednesday was the last day of cruise ship season and the public operations of the tramway.

Two cruise lines partnered recently to donate $1 million to the University of Alaska system. The money, to be gifted to the schools over a three-year period, comes from Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd. and Holland America Line Inc.

The donation will be distributed to different programs across the three UA campuses. UAS Director of Development Lynne Johnson said University of Alaska-Southeast will use the $85,000 it will receive to fund scholarships for students in its science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, known increasingly as STEM.

“We all know Juneau is a cruise ship town,” she said. “I think it (the donation by the cruise companies) shows a commitment to Alaska, and to Juneau.”

Although the university is still working out the details of the scholarships, they will be available only to students who come to the school from rural areas of Alaska, such as Yakutat, Haines and Cordova, she said.

The goal is to draw in students from outside Juneau who struggle to pay for school. Juneau has many community organizations that fund scholarships, but that’s not the case in smaller towns, Johnson said.

“If we can help kids in rural communities come here and get an education and take the knowledge they get back to their community, that makes not just the Southeast economy but our state stronger,” she said.

Being a smaller school, UAS is a good fit for rural students, said Joe Nelson, UAS vice chancellor for enrollment. The school has room for improvement when it comes to attracting students from smaller towns to the Juneau campus, he said. Hopefully, providing these scholarships will help, he said.

The scholarships’ STEM emphasis mirrors a nationwide push to get more science and math types in the job market. Some of the STEM degrees UAS offers are marine biology, environmental science, pre-engineering and mathematics, Johnson said.

Like the rest of the country, Alaska has “trouble filling those positions that require a STEM degree,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, which operates STEM AK, a program that supports STEM education in the state.

Prospects are good for students who graduate from universities with a degree in science or math, he said.  

“When they graduate, they’re going to find two job openings for every applicant with a STEM degree,” Holst said. “People who have degrees in STEM fields earn more no matter what field they go into as a career.”

Right now, UAS has “a couple hundred students” across its STEM majors, Nelson said. The scholarships could allow this subset of students to grow, he said.

“Being right by the water, our marine biology program is one of the places we can really shine,” Nelson said.

A significant portion of the $1 million donation, $585,000, is going toward the ongoing renovation of Cuddy Hall at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, according to a UA news release. The University of Alaska-Fairbanks-funded annual Tsunami Bowl, a marine science competition for high schoolers, is also receiving support through the gift. The program lost its funding this year due to federal budget cuts but will be back in action because of the cruise line donation, according to the release.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced the donation at the Downtown Anchorage Rotary Club on Tuesday.

 Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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