Upward Bound trip gives freshman head start on high school career

It was a month of learning, exploring, brainstorming and playing in the wilds of Alaska that left one Wrangell youth with a lot to think about.

Andrei Bardin-Siekawitch was the only teen from Southeast to join other students from across the state on the latest Upward Bound and Teaching Through Technology Alliance (T3) trip, giving him an opportunity to make new friends and start plotting a course for his future endeavors.

From May 31 through June 30, Bardin-Siekawitch, 13, traveled to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to participate in activities that provided students the chance to work in tech, storytelling, cooking and outdoor-related learning.

The goal of the Upward Bound program is to give students from rural areas and low-income households more opportunities when it comes to pursuing education after high school. The T3 Alliance aims to create a growth mindset within high school youth by using technology and connecting them with their communities. All of which Bardin-Siekawitch encountered on his trip.

"There were four academic strands that everybody was split up into," he said. "There was Earth science, which I was a part of, there was ocean science, there was energy and climate studies."

The first week of the trip was field week, where the students were taken to places outside of the university campus to learn about their area of study. Bardin-Siekawitch and his group went to Denali National Park and Preserve, where they connected with a park ranger, geologist and a biologist.

Denny Capps, park geologist, took the group to see a fault line that had separated so fast that it split a tree in two, and to a couple of landslide sites to show the devastating effects and how his agency monitors the occurrences.

"To make sure it wasn't becoming a problem, they put up this remote monitoring station which had a solar panel and a battery bank so it could run on its own over the summer," Bardin-Siekawitch said. "It took photos every day at a specific time to monitor how much the landslide was moving."

Capps also took the students to the Pretty Rocks landslide which wiped out about 400 feet of the main road through the park, detailing just how destructive geologic events can be.

Another outing paired the group with biologist Kaija Klauder, collecting data on the snowshoe hare using remote sensors.

"We learned about tech using cameras and sensors, using that to monitor something without having to actually be there," Bardin-Siekawitch said. "We also used Starlink and solar power to charge our phones and get a connection. Since we were out in a national park, there wasn't any (cell) reception, but we could use Starlink (satellites) to communicate with our families."

Each setting would later prove valuable when the group was paired with its community partner. In the case of the Earth sciences group, they would connect with the Ahtna Native corporation.

Tammany George, natural resources technician with Ahtna, told the group they were having trouble with trespassers on their land, 1.5 million acres in the Interior.

"We were trying to solve the issue where their land is getting damaged or misused by people who are trespassing, hunting, fishing or camping," Bardin-Siekawitch said. "(George) said that most people that trespass on their land don't even know they're trespassing."

The group was divided into two smaller groups, one of which worked on technological solutions and the other worked on an educational solution.

"That part of the team (the educational group) was working on educating the public about Ahtna land, so they made keychains and brochures and stickers and stuff," he said. "My team was working on the tech part. We made the remote monitoring station."

A Raspberry Pi (a type of computer system students can build from scratch and learn to program) was fitted with seismic and infrasound sensors, solar panels and batteries and a modem housed in a USB stick that allowed for an internet connection.

"We combined all that together in a waterproof box," Bardin-Siekawitch said. "The idea is that you could put (that box) out there, somewhere on their land and you could pick up different frequencies on the infrasound to tell if it's a car or an ATV engine or a gunshot from somebody hunting, maybe, and they could use that to detect people trespassing on their land."

An email alert is sent any time activity is detected.

All the groups presented their projects at the end of the program to show what they had learned and the problems they had been brainstorming to solve.

There was plenty of time for the groups to enjoy activities like camping and whitewater rafting, but they were also given responsibilities like cooking for the other groups.

Bardin-Siekawitch's mother, Larissa Siekawitch, credits the Upward Bound and T3 Alliance programs for giving her sons valuable life skills. Her older son, Nikolai Bardin-Siekawitch, also participated in the programs for most of his high school education. This year, he was a mentor on Andrei's trip. Nikolai will attend Boston University in the fall, having received a full scholarship.

"(The programs) have so much to show kids," Larissa Siekawitch said. "They can go and maybe choose a profession for the future. We cannot find so much resources to send them to see so much stuff. For all these years that Nikolai did this, they were cooking, they were doing the drone stuff. That's how he hooked up with the drones and he's obsessed with it."

Andrei, who begins his freshman year at Wrangell High School this fall, said he would like to attend another trip next year, but only if there is a different program from what he took on this year. He said the connections he made were invaluable and could lead to future business opportunities.

Though he has taken high school classes in middle school, the Upward Bound program gave him better communication and research skills that he believes will benefit him on the high school level.

Siekawitch is thrilled with the program and the impact it has had on her boys.

"I'm so happy," she said. "I'm just kind of like, 'Go. Go and do.'"


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