Paola Banchero, Associate Professor of Journalism & Public Communications at UAA has been working with Take Wing Alaska for months now on a program that brings high school youth from rural Alaska to UAA three times during their junior and senior years. Take Wing, a program of the Alaska Humanities Forum, has an objective to familiarize rural students with what's possible in their futures, the transition challenges and the resources they can draw from to be successful in higher education. Banchero set out to document the students' experiences in a way that would support the program for marketing, outreach, and fundraising. Take Wing focuses on Yupik heritage in the Yukon area so far and begins in the sophomore year to ease that transition. Students come for nearly two weeks for an immersion experience. They return in their second year with a chosen adult, their "community sponsor." A third visit in March of their senior years is also shared with their community sponsors, and the first cohort of 25 students will graduate from high school in May-June.
Not all students will attend UAA, but Take Wing seeks to have students complete some form of post-secondary education, college or Job Corps, and return to the community to contribute - perhaps not by living there but to consciously contribute back to their communities. Banchero began production March 20, 2010 with a mini-grant from CCEL to tell the story of that pathway from high school to higher education success. Two student assistants helped her to gather video during the 4 days that the rural high schoolers visited the campus. Difficulties arose when they lost all of that video material in an "end of the year" department clearance of their servers, and they gamely started over!
Banchero told an audience at the Faculty Breakfast Colloquium in November what she had learned in the process. Number one is having a deep appreciation of the challenges to rural Alaska Native youth; other take-aways include learning about post-production headaches, the differences between writing and video production, and what she might have asked for in a mini-grant! Next steps include revising, polishing, distributing the documentary piece and beginning to think about a longer production piece.
The experience has encouraged Banchero to reach out to students more and to strive to understand what they are dealing with that might not be immediately visible. Some of the goals for Alaska Native students through this process include the ability to thrive in multiple cultures, to nurture and celebrate their personal identifications, to master life skills and build positive social networks, and to demystify post-secondary education.