Student Spotlight: Forest Rose Walker
Class of 2014, Civil Engineering, ANSEP
Hometown: Buckland, Alaska
Fun Fact: Traveled to Chengdu and Beijing, China, with ANSEP to study earthquake management following a massive quake in May 2008.
A visit in January with Apollo 13 commander, James Lovell, was engineering student Forest Rose Walker’s second opportunity to meet an astronaut. And it was her third brush with NASA.
Last year, astronaut Buzz Aldrin inspired Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) students at their annual celebration. And in the months before Forest Rose arrived on campus as a freshman, the ANSEP Summer Bridge program sent her to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to job-shadow an engineer.
So, just what do students like Forest Rose learn from NASA’s best and brightest?
“Just getting to see and meet someone in real life who made an important difference or made great achievements inspires us to keep going,” says the UAA senior who is set to graduate in May.
Astronauts like Lovell and Aldrin are known for being among America’s great firsts—first to enter lunar orbit and first to fly in space four times (Lovell), first to walk on the moon (Aldrin, with Neil Armstrong). Hearing them speak reminds Forest Rose that she and her fellow ANSEP students are putting in those long classroom hours and burying themselves in homework to be counted among Alaska’s firsts.
“It makes me proud to be one of the first of something,” she says, “like being the first engineer from my village.”
Balancing family and school
A top student in school back home in Buckland—an Inupiaq village of about 500 people on the Bering Sea coast of Northwest Alaska—Forest Rose always had high expectations of herself and plans for college.
It didn’t hurt that her mom, a lifelong teacher and eventually principal of Forest Rose’s school, was an ever-present champion for education in her life.
Like most students, she wanted to make her parents proud.
Forest Rose’s motivation shifted when midway through her studies she welcomed baby Siena. Rather than derail her studies, becoming a mom refocused her on life after graduation. It’s not easy juggling parenthood and a demanding degree program like civil engineering, she admits.
“But after having her,” she says, “I want to give her a good life and have something that I can look forward to.”
Building a future in Alaska
In her final semester at UAA, Forest Rose is busy completing her senior design project with classmate Michael Ulroan. They’re designing a suspension bridge for Byers Lake in Denali State Park.
In the last year, she’s worked on projects like a road upgrade on 88th Ave., a steel bridge for an annual competition and a water treatment system for a single-family house.
ANSEP remains Forest Rose’s touchstone on campus. When she’s not in class, she’s typically using the quiet study spaces in the ANSEP Building.
“It’s like a little village. You see the same people every day,” she says. “There’s people there who just grow on you. Coming from a village, it’s nice to find a small community on a huge campus like this.”
For the past few summers, she’s enjoyed working for CH2M Hill. Now, with graduation looming, she’s starting to think about next steps to help her thrive as a structural engineer.
“CH2M Hill said they’d be happy to have me come back after graduation,” she says. “I want to keep my options open, too, so I’m also looking at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and NANA. I’m a NANA shareholder.”
Making it happen
Graduate school is definitely in her future, too.
“I want to go to graduate school sometime soon,” she says. “Whether it’s a couple years from now or right after I graduate.”
Back home in Buckland, her dad, who works in construction, is building a new log home.
This future engineer smiles and says she’s not sure she’ll have any useful tips for him, but this semester’s timber design class might give her a few tricks up her sleeve.
To quote James Lovell, “There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.”
With the support of her family and community, Forest Rose is working hard to do just that.