Michele Yatchmeneff

Michele Yatchmeneff, Engineer

I am Unangax, Aleut, or Alaska Native.  I am from the two small Unangax villages of False Pass and King Cove, which are located on the Aleutian chain in Alaska.  I attended primary and secondary school in Anchorage, which is the largest city in Alaska.  In the summers as a child, I would return to my hometowns to harvest traditional foods and live a traditional Unangax subsistence lifestyle.

I took a lot of math and science courses in high school.  During my junior year of high school, my chemistry teacher recommended I attend an engineering summer camp in Denver, Colorado.  I attended the “Making of an Engineer” program at University of Denver.  Following this experience, I knew I would pursue a career in engineering.

I pursued a bachelors and masters in engineering both at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA).  During each of my schooling experiences, I could see non-Native students and teachers stereotype me for being Alaska Native.  I could see my non-Native peers and teachers expected me to fail because they did not think Alaska Natives were capable of such degrees.  I believe many other Alaska Native students receive the same unwelcoming messages, and leave school because of the cold environment.

Working as an engineer, other engineers would often not recognize me as an engineer and would confuse me for an administrative assistant or accountant.  As a result, in 2007, I began working for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at UAA.  At ANSEP I work to help encourage other Alaska Native students to pursue STEM degrees, develop and lead precollege interventions so students receive the proper precollege preparation for STEM degrees, and work on keeping them motivated to combat those that continue to think Alaska Natives are not capable of such degrees.  Following receiving my PhD from Purdue University in Engineering Education later this year, my plan is to become an engineering faculty member at UAA so I can continue my work with ANSEP.

My STEM Story

1996 During the summer, I attended the Native American Natural Resources Conservation Summer Camp in Colorado.  All of the students were Native and came from all over the country.  I knew I would pursue a STEM degree following this experience.
1997 During the summer, I participated in the “Making of an Engineer” program at University of Denver.  This program focused on the recruitment of Hispanic students but fortunately I felt like I fit in because we were all coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.  I knew I would pursue an engineering degree following this experience.  I still keep in touch with several of the participants and a couple became engineers like I did.
2001 I completed an environmental engineering summer internship with Veco, Alaska.  I developed many of their environmental engineering standard operating procedures for their North Slope oil drilling operations.
2002-2004 During the summers, I completed civil engineering internships with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.  I worked on water and wastewater construction and engineering projects.
2005 I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from UAA.
2005-2007 I worked as an Engineering-In-Training for Summit Consulting Services, Inc. in Anchorage, Alaska.  I worked on water and wastewater construction and engineering projects.  I did not run into other engineers who looked me.  People would often think I wasn’t an engineer but an administrative assistant.  If I was recognized as an engineer, people would then assume I wasn’t Alaska Native.
2007-2012 I began working at ANSEP.  I began working with hundreds of Alaska Native students each year.  I was responsible for the Summer Bridge and University Success components which meant I managed a $0.6M scholarship budget.
2009 I graduated with my Masters of Science in Engineering Management from UAA.
2012-Present I left ANSEP and Alaska to pursue my PhD in Engineering Education at Purdue University.  My research is looking at motivation in Alaska Native precollege students at ANSEP.

This is what it looked like

My Community Work