Working Connections was a successful partnership between Microsoft, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and a network of 63 community colleges across the country. The goal of Working Connections was to help address the acute shortage of qualified workers in information technology jobs. One of our partner schools was Ilisagvik College in Barrow. If you're not sure where Barrow is, look at a map of Alaska and find the Northernmost point - that's Barrow! Like most of the United States, the North Slope was dealing with a pretty serious IT workforce shortage at the time and we were working with the College to help build academic programs to help address the shortage.
It was an interesting time to be on the North Slope and I've done some reflecting back after looking at the pictures. Here's some of the things I remember in no particular order.
- Ilisagvik College is the only tribally controlled college in Alaska and is sanctioned by the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS) tribal government.
- It was cold, even in August the temperature was only in the 30's.
- The College served 7 villages on the North Slope with no connecting roads. The only access was by bush plane.
- It never got dark and the sun would spin in a circle overhead as the day went on. The tundra is flat with no trees or other landmarks and it was easy to lose your sense of direction.
- People were extremely friendly and welcoming.
- The IT worker shortage was magnified on the North Slope and it was hard to get people who were not from the area to stay if they decided to give it a try. With the severely cold and dark winters it was hard for non-natives to adjust with most leaving (if I recall correctly) after less than six months.
- Polar bears were a constant danger. As one native Alaskan told me - the bears had figured out a long time ago that humans were tasty and easy to catch.
- The students, faculty and administrators were smart, dedicated and focused. I was especially impressed with their respect for each other, the ocean, the land and the wildlife.
- Most of the people we met who had been there for a while had what looked like burn mark scars on their necks. These were from cold zippers causing freezer burns on their skin in the winter.
- Satellite TV was just coming to the North Slope in the summer of 2000.
- I did not bring a laptop computer and my cell phone was incredibly expensive to use on the North Slope. When I called home I used a landline and a pre-paid calling card. The satellite delay made conversation difficult.
- We also got over to Wainwright by bush plane. Our pilot was only in his teens but one of the best we were told. Wainwright is the 3rd largest city on the Norht slope with a population of 546 people and probably just about as many polar bears!
- I took pictures with my old Minolta film-based SLR. No digital!
Working Connections, a set on Flickr.
The pictures that include trees were taken in Anchorage. I wonder how much the way of life on the North Slope has changed over the past 11 years.