Alum Shawn Takak has some great advice for any college student: “Get to know your classmates and take the same classes together.”
He learned this pearl of wisdom from Dr. Herb (Ilisaurri) Schroeder, founder and executive director of UAA’s Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP).
Both of Shawn’s parents are from small towns on the Iditarod trail but met in Anchorage and raised Shawn there. When he was in high school, a lot of Shawn’s friends talked about going out of state for college, but he quickly learned there is a lot of support for native students, for all students, at UAA.
It was in his freshman year that Shawn met Dr. Schroeder and it was his supportive and helpful approach Shawn credits for getting him to stick with the tough math and science based program needed for his engineering degree.
Shawn says, “Herb really encouraged the engineering students to stick together as a team, taking classes together and working on homework together. The amount of time Herb puts into the program and the individual students is impressive.”
After finishing his last math class, Shawn started working with ANSEP as a tutor. He also likes helping out with the program in general just to make sure other students are getting the help they need, too. He says the amount of help and information you can get from ANSEP and other student programs at UAA is immense.
“The whole university atmosphere is very friendly and encouraging. All of those little things add up to a lot of support.”
Another opportunity at UAA that Shawn enjoyed is an internship he did for several summers with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium doing fieldwork for the future construction of the new hospital in Nome, thus allowing him to meet a lot of his extended family in the area.
He also works in ANSEP. In the summers he helps with the summer academy, working with high school juniors in a program that offers them a chance to get six college credits in six weeks and prepares them for college level math and science classes. Last summer was the second year the program was offered and had 38 students. The first year there were 22.
Additionally, Shawn helped look after the 54 rural Alaska and Anchorage area middle school students who spent two weeks with the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at UAA, another camp hosted by ANSEP. The campers delved into relevant topics such as wildlife biology, energy, clean water and engineering as they learned about exciting career opportunities available to them through science, technology, engineering and math. Shawn helped the kids learn about loading computer software and operating systems.
“It was pretty intense. It was the first time I had worked with a group of students that I was responsible for; however, I did like being able to answer their questions about what I now have experience in like what the difference is between mechanical and civil engineering.”
Shawn received a B.S. degree in engineering with an emphasis in mechanical engineering. Now he is a graduate student in the Engineering and Science Management Program. What pulled him into grad school was the opportunity to work on a project with assistant professor Muhammad Ali, Ph.D. They are developing prototypes of more effective materials for products like bicycle helmets. In this paid research associate position, Shawn is helping Dr. Ali take the project a step further by running tests on the materials to document how the energy is absorbed with high velocity impact. He has set another goal of working with his advisor on writing a grant proposal for more funding from the National Science Foundation. If they receive the funding, Shawn will be able to work another three years at UAA.
Shawn was able to co-author and publish four papers in the last year and a half and is working on two more, with plans to attend a conference in Vancouver to present his research findings. He expects to graduate in fall 2011.
What is in store for this proud Alaskan? He intends to stay right here and attend to the needs of the state. He is very interested in Alaska’s renewable energy resources and the health care needs of people. And he’s already setting an example and making an impact, one person at a time.
Shawn says he really likes what ANSEP is doing. “I like working with the students, especially those interested in science and engineering. It feels good to have a positive influence on the students.”