STEAM: A Woman’s Journey of Inclusion and Education

By Public Relations Assistant Leilani Zywicki

Breanna Wong holds two drones at the Knik Tribe’s Benteh STEAM Academy.

What is STEAM? STEAM or STEM, is Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math — the terms are used interchangeably, depending on the specific program.

Breanna Wong, an Indigenous instructor at the Benteh STEAM Academy shared, “STEAM programs stimulate students by allowing them to practice hands-on activities that promote skill development and easy retention of knowledge they can use in the future.”

Wong’s Indigenous heritage is from the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, but she grew up on Dena’ina land in Anchorage. She received her Bachelor of Arts in theater and communications at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. She shared that her passion for designing, building, engineering, and carpentry came from learning stagecraft in college. Wong later worked at Cook Inlet Tribal Council helping to build its mobile STEM lab program that visited schools within the Anchorage School District.

Wong works with students grades K through 12 at Knik Tribe’s Benteh STEAM Academy. Registration for the STEAM program is offered to Knik Tribal members first and is also open to any middle or high school student in the community. The goal of the Benteh STEAM Academy is to increase students’ math and science scores for their measures of academic progress, or MAP testing. The program acts as supplementary education to students’ normal school day to reinforce lessons taught in school while exploring fun projects they might not be exposed to otherwise.

At Benteh STEAM Academy, the curriculum is developed entirely in-house, so a lot of Wong’s time and energy goes into building lessons with cultural ties and ensuring she and other instructors are serving the students in the best ways possible.

Keeping up with the times, the Benteh STEAM Academy utilizes a YouTube channel where students can access lessons and how-to videos for corresponding STEM kits. Wong is currently working on a grant-funded project focusing on aviation and preparing students for obtaining certification for professional drone flights. She says although not all students are old enough to take the test for certification, it’s important for them to have the knowledge to fly drones safely and legally, even if they want to fly them recreationally. In one class, students are given a small, pre-built drone that they learn how to race. They also learn how to repair, adjust, program, and calibrate the drones.

“We are opening so many doors for these students and allowing them to explore what they’re passionate about,” Wong shared.

Wong emphasizes that students in the program are studying topics that get them real certifications. The students are now working on building a drone from scratch. She shared that watching her students explore, learn, and grow is the best inspiration she could possibly ask for, especially seeing their grades improve and getting excited about what they’re learning.

According to the United States Census Bureau, women make up only 27% of the workforce in STEM fields despite being nearly 50% of the workforce. While there have been more women entering STEM careers since the 1970s, there is still room for greater representation in this field.

Wong’s advice to young women and girls interested in STEM fields is, “It’s really hard to be in a male-dominated industry without the drive to get there, so if you have the drive and you have the interest never give up on it, and keep trying until you get there. We need more women in STEM. Never stop trying.”

For more information about science, technology, engineering, art, and math programs, call Knik Tribe’s Benteh STEAM Academy at (907) 521-8697 or CITC Youth Services at (907) 793-3265.

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